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Papal call against pornography must resonate in Asian churches

Stop Child Pornography Protest
A US Capitol Police K9 dog inspects ParentsTogether's teddy bear sit-in held in Washington DC in July 2020 to demand that Amazon stop hosting child pornography on its web services. (Photo: AFP)

Child pornography is one of the worst forms of exploitation and continues to crush the dreams of children globally. This absolute moral degradation is now a part of the multi-billion-dollar global porn industry, with deep roots in Asia.

It operates like any business with public relations networks and lobby groups. Asia has emerged as the de facto capital of child pornography with businesses thriving in Japan, Thailand, India and the Philippines, particularly the sex-on-the-screen industry.

Turbocharged by the internet, the porn industry is worth US$100 billion globally, and the share of child porn is estimated to be more than half of it. The international community including advocates of child rights has failed miserably to stop this vicious business.

More frustrating is the fact that Asia’s largely conservative societies, where it is taboo to speak about sex in public, keep tolerating the sexual abuse of children. Poverty and lack of awareness about its long-term impact are enough reasons for Asian societies to largely ignore the evil industry.

Pope Francis was bold enough to recently denounce the proliferation of child pornography and called on governments to act. He stressed that the world is running against time and remedial actions have to come quickly.

The pornography industry behaves “like mafias who hide and defend themselves” to the detriment of the victims who are minors, Pope Francis said in an interview with a French magazine this month.

"Asian teen porn, published reports show, is one of the most popular new genres across the globe because of suppliers in Thailand, the Philippines, Japan and India."

The papal call to action on a global level, by all means, should include Asia, where lax policing and insensitive policies compound the situation across nations. But is the Church in Asia even aware of the issue?

The world seems to have lost the battle, with laws that ban online pornography mostly covering images that are “or appear to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” It thus narrowed the field down to only images of actual minors.

In Asia, which houses some fast-developing economies, child pornography has become an export item. Asian teen porn, published reports show, is one of the most popular new genres across the globe because of suppliers in Thailand, the Philippines, Japan and India. These countries not only recruit domestic child performers but also serve as destinations for children trafficked from neighboring nations.

For example, many Nepalese children end up as slaves in child porn rackets in India. Thailand has similar stories of children from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Japan continues to produce pornography without any social repercussions because of its Shinto religious outlook, which sees sex as an innate part of life.

At one point in the late nineties, more than 60 percent of all pedophilic images on the internet were thought to have originated in Japan, according to a report quoting John Carr, a British government adviser on internet safety policy for children.

Japan banned possession of child abuse materials in 2014, but it failed to extend the curbs on manga (comics or graphic novels) and anime (animated works). The two culturally symbolic illustrative media in Japan continue to be exploited for child porn.

This month the Japanese government refused to ban comics featuring young girls engaged in explicit sexual acts. In the name of saving culturally sensitive media, Japan has shamefully overlooked something that effectively triggers demand for child porn.

Despite being a Catholic-majority country, child porn is a major social vice in the Philippines. In 2015, UNICEF branded the Philippines a top global producer of child porn after studies revealed eight out of every 10 Filipino children are at risk of online sexual abuse.

Technically, pornography is illegal in the Philippines and the Church played a major role behind this ban. However, pornography is aplenty thanks to thriving black markets as regulatory authorities turn a blind eye to bribery and other unlawful benefits.

In India, publishing or transmission of pornographic materials is illegal. But in July 2015, India’s top court ruled that watching porn indoors is not a crime. Porn, including that involving children, is widely produced and consumed in India with law enforcement agencies making no effective efforts to control it for the same reasons as in the Philippines.

Child porn cases continue to rise in India. In January 2020, the US-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children published a report with 25,000 cases of child pornography. It sparked a heated debate in India's parliament but was soon forgotten and pushed under the carpet.

The Penal Code of Thailand bans the possession and distribution of obscene materials for commercial purposes, but it is rarely enforced. Thai porn including child porn is in high demand within the country and beyond.

Earlier this month, Surachate Hakparn, deputy director of the Thai police’s Center for Protection of Children, told the media that "every minute, more than 500 images of child porn are circulated on the internet."

Throughout history, government attempts to regulate obscenity on paper or video failed miserably. As long as it makes money, it gets done in Thailand.

Censorship is fudgy. Every time the authorities ban one form of pornography, more forms sprout out. Porn enthusiasts justify the industry as a provider of entertainment.

The Church’s mission should include strengthening civil society groups in their battle against child porn in Asia

Much of the pornography is still produced in the West and most sites operate out of Western nations. But Asia is gradually and steadily making its mark on the scene.

Many nations including some in Asia have ratified the United Nations’ Palermo Protocols that term pornography illegal when it features children, bestiality and incest. But the menace continues to flood the globe practically unchallenged.

In the internet age, the Church should deal with child pornography with the same commitment shown to counter plagues like leprosy in past centuries. The Church as a whole ought to see such evils as new age plagues.

The Church’s mission should include strengthening civil society groups in their battle against child porn in Asia. While these groups are still active in fighting for human rights, most fail to see child labor, child trafficking and child porn as violations of basic human dignity.

Child pornography, its ill-effects on individuals and society and ways to fight it should become part of the syllabus in the formation of religious and priests. The Church should prioritize it as part of its pro-life activities. Pro-life means standing for life in all its stages, not just in the embryo stage.

Despite papal calls, Catholic leaders in Asia continue to ignore sexual abuse and pornography. Filipino bishops did their part by pushing for a legal ban and raising voices against child porn, providing an example for bishops in other Asian nations.

It remains to be seen how strong the papal call against pornography resonates in Asian churches. For now, hapless children in Asia are left in the lurch as the nexus of the porn industry, lobbyists and politicians continues to exploit them.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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