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Freedom of Expression Part 3: Child Pornography, Manga, Anime, Obscene Publication

At the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council, we heard how 1 billion children in 2019 who were subjected to various forms of violence and the need for more action to protect children according to the Special Rapporteur. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child released Guidelines on the implementation of the international treaty that bans child pornography, proposing to expand its interpretation to include bans on drawings and stories that sexually depict minors.

Last year, as the Committee was deliberating and inviting input from the public, there were diverse petitions and submissions. Prostasia Foundation advocates that drawings do not constitute child pornography and in their view, the Committee was wrong (see here).

Whilst the public consultations were happening last year, some advocates of “freedom of expression” argued that a category of consensual BDSM relationship between adults in which a dominant partner adopts a caregiver role and the submissive partner a childlike role, that is DD/lg (Daddy Dom/Little Girl. Visual novels, mangas, games, or movies featuring lolis or shotas will have to be weighed and gauged by the Committee to see if it’s determined to be “offensive” according to the protocol’s Committee. Some fear that this will impact “Loli” ad “Shota” Animation, see here.

Queen Silvia of Sweden, a fierce advocate of why children need to be protected online and that no child be left behind, see here.

As Parliaments and Courts around the world continue to grapple with the limits of Freedom of Expression, new issues and old issues recycled keep surfacing, and there are no easy solutions in dealing with this.

Since 1857, a series of Obscene Publications rules have governed publications in England and Wales and influenced Britain’s colonized countries. Today, within the United Kingdom, the Obscene Publications Act 1957 is in force.

In 2010, in the United States, a 40-year-old comic book collector called Christopher Handley was sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to importing and possessing Japanese manga books depicting illustrations of child sex and bestiality. He was sentenced in Iowa and was charged under the 2003 Protect Act, which outlaws cartoons, drawings, sculptures or paintings depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct and lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Handley was the first in the United States to be convicted under that law for possessing cartoon art, without any evidence that he also collected or viewed genuine child pornography. To read the Judgment see here. Over time, boundaries and public morality have shifted in countries where what was once morally unaccepted is today widely accepted, except for certain content such as child pornography. It has widely been argued that the content fuels demand for child sexual exploitation.

Under international law and for most countries, child pornography is illegal and classified as objectionable content.

Over the years, global and regional law enforcement with their member counterparts have engaged in numerous Operations where pedophile rings have been exposed and arrests and charges were laid against law enforcement officers, teachers, professionals. Some of these include:

Below are some examples of how other forms of online content have been perceived as harmful to children.

Example 1: Pakistan

On the 1 July 2020, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) issued a Press Release following widespread complaints from the nation where they decided to suspend the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) game temporarily. PTA had “received numerous complaints against PUBG wherein it is stated that the game is addictive, wastage of time and poses serious negative impact on physical and psychological health of the children.”

Example 2: Momo Challenge

The numerous self-harm content, such as the “Momo Craze Challenge” that instructed children to engage in self-harm or cyberbullying on various social media platforms, has also caused alarm. The Momo Challenge has been blamed for causing two suicides in Colombia. According to the Computer Crime Investigation Unit of the State of Tabasco, Mexico, the Momo Challenge is said to have started in Mexico, with players challenged to communicate on WhatsApp with an Avatar called Momo. Since then, there have been reports of the Momo Challenge hiding in the middle of kids’ content in YouTube Kids Content. Inside Edition reported a five-year-old dialing 911 after seeing Momo. WPTV reported that Palm Beach County School District had temporarily blocked YouTube due to the “Momo Challenge.” Various content on YouTube Kids such as Pepa Pig had the Momo Challenge inside the content, watch video from 4:39 onwards. There have also been calls from some that the Momo Challenge is a “hoax,” but there is no denying that these have been embedded into content targeting children.


Globally, human societies and nations have seen how what was once perceived as offensive changes with time. In terms of public morality issues, we live in a time where the boundaries and goalposts are continually shifting. Public morality is linked to what society deems as acceptable and what it deems as harmful. The criminalization of content, conduct stems from perceptions of public morality.

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