Tell the UN: banning cartoons won't help children
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is proposing to broadly reinterpret the established international legal definition of child pornography, to expand its scope to include a wide range of works of art and literature depicting fictional minors in a sexual context. These works, that were previously considered legal in many countries, include:
  • Visual works such as drawings and cartoons.
  • Audio representations such as the soundtracks to animated movies.
  • Digital media representations such as video games.
  • Live performances such as ageplay or "DD/lg" themed burlesque and cam shows.
  • Written materials including fan fiction and perhaps even novels such as Lolita.
  • Physical objects such as anime collectibles and sex toys.
The reinterpretation would apply to all 175 countries around the world that are signatories to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and would require them to criminalize the production, distribution, or possession of these artistic works and performances.

The most serious flaw with this proposal from a legal standpoint is that it oversteps the boundaries of what is permissible under international law as an exception to the right of freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For our most recent podcast episode, we spoke to Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who told us:
Of course it makes sense to protect real children from harm, but when it comes to cartoons, fictional characters, things like that, it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that these characters need to be protected. I do feel that fictionalized images should be considered very distinct from real images, and when we talk about the things that need to be kept in view we should be looking at a more narrow definition of censorship, and that includes anything that really causes harm to an individual.
So, does outlawing the depiction of minors in art prevent actual harm to individuals? The only evidence that the Committee presents in this regard comes in the form of references to the the Luxembourg Guidelines, an advocacy document developed by ECPAT that we have previously criticized. The Luxembourg Guidelines misapprehend or misstate the existence of a connection between the availability of fictional representations of minors and the sexual abuse of real minors, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child repeats this error by referencing that document and failing to question its unscientific and sex-negative assumptions.

Last week we spoke to Masayuki Hatta, associate professor of Economics and Management at Surugadai University, Japan, and who broke news of the United Nations plans within the online communities of fans of Japanese manga and anime (comic book art and cartoons). Although the scope of the ban is much broader, these artforms are particularly at risk because they often feature “kawaii” (cute) representations of characters who appear underage, sometimes in sexually suggestive situations (called “hentai”). Those that feature female characters are known as lolicon, and those with male characters are called shotacon. Masayuki pointed out that the Committee’s theory that the banning of these art forms is necessary to protect children is not backed by current science:
I think there are two possibilities. One of them is the gateway theory, that if you see simulated child pornography, maybe you will abuse real children. The simulated virtual child pornography might be something like a gateway drug. But as far as I know, it’s not proved. … Virtual pornography, cartoons or manga, might [also] be a substitute for real sexual conduct, but as far as I know it’s also not proven. So the gateway theory is not proven, and the substitution theory is not proven. So from my understanding, simulated child pornography is not connected to real child pornography at all.
Akemi Mokoto, an American fan who leads the Lolicon Defense Task Force, said when he also spoke to us last week:
It’s bewildering how they can just continue to do things like this without first at least trying to study the impacts of it, because the majority of studies that are out say that it’s not harmful. So I don’t know if they don’t know this or they just act like it doesn’t exist, but the fact is that they’re not going to help children by censoring fiction; they’re going to hurt them.
An amateur lolicon manga artist Artyom, who also spoke to us last week, agreed:
There's no evidence to back up this claim and with an enthusiastic community involving thousands if not millions of people, it's hard to believe. Hentai, loli or not, can be expressed through various forms just like any other form of art: as an illustration, an animation, a piece of writing, an idea or a concept. It doesn't necessarily have to be erotic as there's much much more to the loli community than mere pornography. The difference between actual porn and drawn, animated or written one is that the second requires an artist to produce it. It requires skill, perspective theory and anatomy. It's the fruit of the artist's labour, of human imagination and creativity while no living being is exploited in the process.
In the absence of any evidence that the sexual representation of minors in art increases the risk of actual minors being harmed, there can be no justification under international law for the imposition of a ban of such representations. Instead, the Committee on the Rights of the Child ought to be supporting research into the relationship between such artistic representations and actual harm to minors, and refocusing its efforts towards the elimination of actual photographs and videos of minors being sexually abused, which remain widely available online.

If you agree that a United Nations commtittee has no business passing these unwarranted limitations on artistic freedom into international law, we ask that you take action to tell them so. You can write to the committee until March 31 with your views. Or to make it easier for you, we will be collecting signatures for a petition that we will be presenting to the committee along with our own detailed written submission on this topic.
Sign the petition
Our brief to defeat FOSTA, delivered
Last week Prostasia Foundation, in collaboration with the the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the Free Speech Coalition, and eight other organizations and coalitions, filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to support the lawsuit brought by the Woodhull Freedom Foundation and others to defeat FOSTA, the anti-sex worker bill that was signed into law in the week before Prostasia Foundation was formed last year. The brief is before the Federal appeals court that is reconsidering the dismissal of the case on procedural grounds last September.

In the declaration of our Executive Director Jeremy Malcolm, which is appended to the brief, we deposed:
The relationship of Internet platforms to minors who engage in sex work online is a more complex one than FOSTA admits. FOSTA only addresses one side of this relationship: that an Internet platform technically facilitates the abuse of a minor who engages in sex work through that platform. Less well understood is the fact that Internet platforms can actually protect minors from child sexual abuse, by contributing towards a culture of “primary prevention” of child sexual abuse. Primary prevention describes a set of interventions that target the whole population with measures that can stop child sexual abuse before it happens.
The brief goes on to describe how child sexual abuse prevention experts consider the provision of accurate information and support as essential to prevent some people from sexually offending against children. In the wake of FOSTA, we have seen such information being censored from platforms such as Medium, Tumblr and Discord. Simultanously, platforms have also engaged in additional censorship of educational and support materials aimed at minors themselves. In combination, this censorship creates harms that we believe support the plaintiff's claim for relief.
Read our brief
Latest blog posts
Experts to United Nations: hentai ban would be a mistake
A United Nations committee is circulating a draft document that could bring in a global ban on the sexual depiction of minors in drawings and cartoons, including lolicon and shotacon…
How minor-attracted persons can obtain help not to offend
A relevant question for today’s audience is: what can we do to prevent child sexual abuse (CSA), including the consumption of child sexual exploitation material (CSEM)? A less often asked,…
Become a member
Your membership fees and donations are our only means of support.

Join now
Prostasia Foundation
18 Bartol Street #995, San Francisco, CA 94133
EIN 82-4969920
Twitter Google+ LinkedIn Tumblr Youtube Instagram
Change your subscription    |    View online