Child pornography is pornography involving children. Production and sale of child pornography is generally illegal in most developed countries, although national regulations vary widely. Some countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and The Netherlands, outlaw mere possession. In the United Kingdom, even simulated images are illegal, on the principle that it would otherwise be possible to claim that illegal images were created artificially, and thus not "real" abusive images.

Still, in some countries, the situation is different. For example, in Russia there is no special legislation regarding child pornography. Production of child pornography is usually prosecuted as child abuse. Illegal distribution of pornography is prohibited, but there is no law defining governing distribution of pornography and child porn is not singled out. Downloading and possession of child pornography is legal.

Definitions of child pornography vary widely.

In most countries, "children" are defined to be persons below the age of 14 or 16, and "pornography" is defined to be depiction of actual sexual activity. In these countries nudist magazines with depictions of nude underage persons are widely available.

The United States of America uses a particularly broad definition, which applies to all people appearing to be below the age of 18 and covers all materials aimed at "prurient interests", even if no nudity is involved. In at least one case, nude pictures of small children in bath tubs have been declared to be child pornography.

Recently, the question has arisen whether materials which appear to, but in fact do not involve actual under-age persons (for instance because adult actors or computer animation were used) should also be treated as prohibited child pornography.

Proponents of such a prohibition argue that these materials might encourage child molesters, and that the availability of simulated child pornography would make the prosecution of true child pornography much harder. Opponents of the prohibition claim that simulated child pornography does not harm children and should therefore fall under the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press. They also argue that these materials may give pedophiless a sexual outlet, thereby lowering sexual frustration and the risk of criminal behaviour.

The United States Supreme Court decided in 2002 that the American prohibition of simulated child pornography is unconstitutional (Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition).

The majority of internationally available hardcore child pornography is produced in developing countries in former Soviet Union countries, South-East Asia and Central America. Germany was one of the main sources of naturist child erotica in the past. Japan was and still remains one of the leading producers of softcore pornography, which was outlawed there only in 1999, after much international pressure; enforcement remains somewhat sporadic. A lot of modern legitimate softcore pornography (so-called Lolita art) is also made in Russia and other ex-USSR countries.

The Netherlands decided in July 2002 that creating apparently real child pornography is a criminal offence and raised the age limit of a "child" to 18 years.

Opponents of child porn usually argue that production of child porn necessarily involves child abuse and is harmful for children involved. However, only a minor share of child porn is made in developed countries, where producers have to resort to rape, kidnapping, coersion and sometimes even enslavement. The majority of child porn is produced in developing countries where poor economic conditions often cause children to turn to porn or child prostitution as a means of supporting themselves and their families. One can argue that most of the problems of these children are caused by social conditions and precede their involvement in child porn; it has even been argued that this alternative is considerably better than starvation that they and their families otherwise have to face. Opponents counter that children below the age of consent by definition cannot make an informed choice, and on the contrary are often forced or outright sold by their families.

The advent of the Internet has facilitated the exchange in child pornography considerably, and several groups engaged in the exchange of child pornography have been uncovered. Typically, participants in these groups do not buy or sell materials, but trade, or post out of a desire to spread them.

Some sources claim that the prevalence of child pornography is much lower than generally thought, and that much or most of the material found online is actually bait deployed by law enforcement agents. The NAMBLA newsletter once warned its readers that most of the solicitations for child pornography are actually sting operations.

Lolita is a common codeword for child pornography, derived from Vladimir Nabokov's novel about a man's obsessive affair with a teenage girl.

It is interesting to note that there is a conflict between many countries' child porn laws and their age of sexual consent. For example, in the U.S. child porn defines anyone under 18, however, many states have ages of consent lower than 18. Therefore, it is legal to have sex with someone under 18 but not to take pictures of them in sexual situations. The young person is not even allowed to make such a picture of him- or herself for personal use.

See also: Age of consent, Criminal law, hentai, shota-con, loli-con, Operation Pin, honeypot, Internet child pornography.

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