The United Nations is calling on Japan to ban child pornography images in manga comics, despite pushback from artists claiming the ban would violate their freedom of expression, The Guardian reported. Following a week-long visit to Japan, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography praised the country for its legislation passed last June that forbid the possession of child abuse images. But she warned that exploitation continues through the law’s loopholes for manga comics and anime.

“I accept that the freedom of expression argument should prevail when it comes to adult pornography,” Maud de Boer-Buquicchio said. “When it comes to particular, extreme child pornographic content, manga should be banned.”

The Japanese manga book market was worth approximately $2.3 billion in 2014, which de Boer-Buquicchio criticized as a lucrative business allowing a “trend which seems to be socially accepted and tolerated.”

RTR3VSC3 A Japanese Manga "Ichi Efu" (2nd R) is seen on a bookshelf as a staff adjusts manga comics at a bookstore in Tokyo June 23, 2014. Photo: REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Another loophole in Japan’s current legislation allows bookstores and convenience stores to stock magazines with semi-naked images of pubescent and pre-pubescent children, provided that their genitalia remains covered.

Until June 2014, Japan had been the only nation within 34 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that allowed possession of child pornography, although it had banned the production and distribution of those images in 1999. Under the new law, the penalties for possessing such images are up to a year in prison or a fine of up to $9,800.

Before the law was enacted, child pornography-related crime grew fivefold in Japan throughout the prior decade, the National Police said, noting that 600 children per year had fallen victim to directors and photographers of child pornography. But artists claim a ban on such images in manga comics and anime both threatens freedom of expression and rejects a popular Japanese art style.

“There is no such thing as manga and anime child pornography,” manga translator Dan Kanemitsu told The Guardian. “Child pornography entails the involvement of children, and we must confront it for that reason.”