Japan's number of known child pornography victims surged by half last year, data showed Thursday, a new record in a country where it is legal to possess sexually explicit images of children.
Despite its production and distribution being outlawed, Japan is seen as a major global source of child pornography in photo and video form, and authorities have stepped up efforts to contain the problem.
The National Police Agency on Thursday said law enforcers took action in 1,342 child porn cases last year, up 43.5 percent from the previous year, to reach a new record since such data was first compiled in 2000.
A total of 618 children under 18 were recorded as having fallen victim to pornographic exploitation, up 52.6 percent, police said.
The widespread availability of online child pornography in Japan is further fueling the problem in a country where general crime levels are low.
The data found that the Internet was the medium for spreading child porn in 783 cases, accounting for almost 60 percent of the total.
Japan and Russia are the only members of the G8 group of industrialised nations where the possession of child porn remains legal. It is banned and subject to penalties in more than 70 countries.
The police agency also said that registered cases of child abuse in Japan, including beatings and neglect, in 2010 increased 5.7 percent from the previous year to 354 cases. The number of known victims rose 4.3 percent to 362, of whom 33 died.
Both figures were the highest since such data was first compiled in 1999.
Campaigners this month renewed their calls for the government to clamp down on child pornography.
"As consumption is not criminalized, demand is always going up," said Junko Miyamoto of non-profit group ECPAT/STOP Japan. "Also, the content of child pornography is getting worse, more cruel."
The head of the Polaris Project, a US-based anti-human trafficking group, last week told Japanese lawmakers that "significant percentages of the images involve children being gagged, bound, tied with ropes or even blindfolded".
Keiji Goto, head of lawyers' group the Forum Against Child Pornography, pointed to growing public support for restricting child porn but said: "The problem is that such voices are not reflected in political decisions."