Japan has been elected, for the third time in a row, to serve on the UN Human Rights Council, once again putting a number of the country’s unsavory societal aspects under the microscope.

Beginning on January 1 next year Japan, along with 17 other member-countries including South Korea, the US and Germany, will look into human rights violations in UN member countries and make recommendations for improvement.

But what of Japan? The country has been an elected member of the Human Rights Council since it was founded 2006 but has far from a clean slate.

Historically speaking Japan is yet to satisfactorily tackle the issue of Comfort Women, while many people are still concerned about discrimination against women, migrants and people with disabilities in modern-day Japan.

A poll by the Japan Times shows that of the almost 4,000 people surveyed, just over 20 per cent felt that gender-based discrimination was the most important and coming in at number three was discrimination against migrants.

But it’s child pornography – ranked as the second-most important human rights injustice by the Japan Times readers – that I think needs to be tackled quickly and harshly in Japan.

Japan is the only OECD nation where the possession of child pornography is still legal. Even more frighteningly, a government survey in 2002 revealed that 10 per cent of Japanese men admitted to owning child pornography at some stage.

In October, this year, three men were arrested in Kyoto for possessing child porn – it was the first time this had even happened in Japan.

Kyoto remains the only one of Japan’s 47 prefectures which punishes possession of child porn with jail time while the neighbouring prefecture, Nara, also deems it a crime but only punishable with a fine.

In the rest of Japan, while possession of child porn is legal, production and distribution has been illegal since 1999. But even these offences seem to be met half-heartedly with offenders facing fines and up to five years in prison.

Some believe Japan’s lax child pornography laws are there to protect the country’s manga and anime industry. According to Asia Times Online, 30-40 per cent of manga is of a sexual nature and much of this includes elementary or junior-high school aged girls in their uniforms. The term “joshi-kou” (short for joshi koukousei or senior high school girl) is often used to conjure images of “sexy” 16-17 year olds.

But there’s a big difference between a drawing of a prepubescent-looking character and photos of real half-naked 13 year-olds which fill the pages of magazines sold in book stores and convenience stores – not just adult shops.

Japan has become (in)famous for arguably over-sexualising youth and younger celebrities. The latest single by NMB48, Osaka-based girl band produced by the same company as AKB48, is titled “Virginity” and features Haruna Kinoshita, one of the group’s youngest members, aged 14. (Of course, some could argue that as the national age of consent in Japan is 13 there’s no problem with this, but it bothers me.)

But it’s not just the music. Pop idol groups like NMB48 and AKB48 regularly release photo books of the singers. While they aren’t pornographic, these books often show the girls in lingerie or tight fitting, revealing outfits.

And they’re big sellers. Three separate photo books featuring AKB singers were the top three selling photo books by publisher Oricon for the first half of this year which each book selling just over 92,000 copies on average.

At the beginning of the month, Japan Times reported that the UN Human Rights Council endorsed over 170 recommendations for Japan to improve its human rights record. The article goes on to say that while the recommendations are not legally binding Japan will have to provide a response by March.

But for me, the biggest crime regarding child porn in Japan is that it seems notoriously underreported. Instead of the UN issuing voluntary recommendations, what really needs to happen is for other countries to publicise this bizarre loophole in Japan’s legal system and to put pressure on Japanese society to outlaw this absolute breech of human rights once and for all.