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    Southeast Asia
     Jul 26, 2008
Pedophiles get tech-savvy
By William Sparrow

BANGKOK - The proliferation of child pornography is a deplorable, abusive act that would appear a very simple matter to identify and prosecute. Yet many factors confuse its definition and make enforcement difficult. Laws that vary greatly between countries and the onset of the Internet age have further exacerbated the problem.

There are unintended side-effects in the pursuit of justice. A friend in Thailand recently related a tale: he was working on his computer while his wife and three-year-old daughter played with the neighborhood kids. His wife had been taking snapshots with a


new digital camera and asked him to download the photos.

As he tells it: "I did it, but as I was flipping through the thumbnails with her I was suddenly shocked and asked, 'Dear God, what the hell is this'?" He had noticed a dozen or so pictures showing his daughter naked in the pool.

"I can't have this on my computer," he told his wife and promptly deleted the images, despite her protests. She argued that the girl was just a baby, the pictures weren't sexy and, most important, that it was his daughter. But he stuck to his decision, worried about his job, which required traveling to Western countries where enforcement on child porn is strict and the penalties harsh.

"The US is rabid on pedophilia and child porn," he said. "I don't even think it would matter if I could prove it was my daughter to them. They'd still consider me a 'baby bouncer', just that I would be deemed an even sicker incestuous one."

The US, Britain and Australia are leaders in enforcing strict laws and penalties. Conversely, many Asian countries often lack legal definitions, which leads to lax enforcement or minor punishments.
Asia is a leader in child pornography production with Japan, Cambodia and Thailand most mentioned in reports as producing and facilitating countries. As Asia Times Online reported in June 2000 (Tougher action sought on Internet child porn), just seven months after Japan enacted laws forbidding sex with minors and the production and distribution of child pornography, activists estimated that as much as 80% of the illegal material on the Internet was produced in Japan. Japan bent to international pressure in 2003 and passed a subsequent law meant to strengthen enforcement.

While Japan's child porn industry remains a largely domestic undertaking often run by organized crime syndicates, in Southeast Asia production often originates from foreigners exploiting local children. Western tourists and expats produce illicit porn that they later distribute. Locals in these countries sometimes provide children for sexual abuse. They also take part in distributing the content locally - usually to other foreigners - and occasionally internationally.

It is not uncommon in many of these Asian countries to find a pirated movie tout who is willing to accommodate a buyer seeking child porn. They send a runner off to acquire the material as they dare not carry it on their person.

These ill-gotten videos and photo-disks are a testament to the way technology has changed the world of child pornography. The days of back-alley deals are gone, replaced by the high-tech process of disseminating illegal material with, and for, computers.
Tech-savvy pedophiles use digital cameras, encryption and the Internet to anonymously transfer material. They also create chat rooms and bulletin boards that disappear just as quickly as they are created, and peer-to-peer information transfers that can be hard to track.

Torrents, or file-sharing systems, and forums that were meant for other interactions have become havens for cryptic communications about how and where to find illicit content. Organized distributors employ multiple servers in countries around the world that provide their paying customers with a "jigsaw" of child porn that is only assembled after download.

Technology has made for a complex, daunting crime that law enforcement must chase on a daily basis.

The same technology that makes child porn much more fluid also makes it much more reported in Western journalism. Internet bloggers and journalists have noted that barely a day goes by without reports on a pedophile or on child pornography. The truth, however, is it was always there. It was just disseminated in the print media and rarely gained national or international attention unless the details were exceedingly outrageous.

Today, a case from any backwater town or rural village reaches the masses, stoking fear and disdain. The perceived prevalence serves as evidence that the threat of child porn is omnipresent. In turn, laws and punishment (at least in the West) become tougher and more punitive.

The threat was always there, the volume was always equivalent. But global information access has propelled child porn into an unprecedented arena.

Child pornography - and the exploitation and sexual abuses it entails - must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Lawmakers around the world - from Saudi Arabia to Japan - need to create laws outlawing the sexual abuse of minors, and see to it that these laws are actively enforced.

Until this is done, Asia will remain a leader in disreputable areas: specifically prostitution and pornography. Leaders must make hard decisions on matters of law concerning these issues.

William Sparrow has been an occasional contributor to Asia Times Online and now joins Asia Times Online with a weekly column. Sparrow is editor in chief of Asian Sex Gazette and has reported on sex in Asia for over five years. To contact him send question or comments to Letters@atimes.com.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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