Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 14:17 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Japan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Japan, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee702.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Japan (Tier 2)

Japan is a destination, source, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Male and female migrant workers from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asian countries are sometimes subject to conditions of forced labor. Some women and children from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and in previous years, Eastern Europe, Russia, South America, and Latin America who travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage are forced into prostitution. During the reporting period, there was a growth in trafficking of Japanese nationals, including foreign-born children of Japanese citizens who acquired nationality. In addition, traffickers continued to use fraudulent marriages between foreign women and Japanese men to facilitate the entry of these women into Japan for forced prostitution. Government and NGO sources report that there was an increase in the number of children identified as victims of trafficking. Japanese organized crime syndicates (the Yakuza) are believed to play a significant role in trafficking in Japan, both directly and indirectly. Traffickers strictly control the movements of victims, using debt bondage, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, and other coercive psychological methods to control victims. Victims of forced prostitution sometimes face debts upon commencement of their contracts as high as $50,000 and most are required to pay employers additional fees for living expenses, medical care, and other necessities, leaving them predisposed to debt bondage. "Fines" for misbehavior added to their original debt, and the process that brothel operators used to calculate these debts was not transparent. Some of the victims identified during the reporting period were forced to work in exploitative conditions in strip clubs and hostess bars, but were reportedly not forced to have sex with clients. Japan is also a transit country for persons trafficked from East Asia to North America. Japanese men continue to be a significant source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia.

Although the Government of Japan has not officially recognized the existence of forced labor within the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program (the "foreign trainee program"), the media and NGOs continue to report abuses including debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages and overtime, fraud, and contracting workers out to different employers – elements which contribute to situations of trafficking. The majority of trainees are Chinese nationals who pay fees of more than $1,400 to Chinese brokers to apply for the program and deposits – which are now illegal – of up to $4,000 and a lien on their home. An NGO survey of Chinese trainees in Japan, conducted in late 2010, found that workers' deposits are regularly seized by the brokers if they report mistreatment or attempt to leave the program. Some trainees also reported having their passports and other travel documents taken from them and their movements controlled to prevent escape or communication.

The Government of Japan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Although Japan provided a modest grant to IOM for the repatriation of foreign victims identified in Japan, the government's resources dedicated specifically to assist victims of trafficking were low, particularly relative to Japan's wealth and the size of its trafficking problem. During the year, the government published a manual for law enforcement and judicial officers on identifying trafficking victims and developed a Public Awareness Roadmap to increase prevention of trafficking in Japan. The government also reported some efforts to punish and prevent trafficking of women for forced prostitution. Nonetheless, the government made inadequate efforts to address abuses in the foreign trainee program despite credible reports of mistreatment of foreign workers. Although the government took some steps to reduce practices that increase the vulnerability of these workers to forced labor, the government reported poor law enforcement against forced labor crimes and did not identify or provide protection to any victims of forced labor. In addition, Japan's victim protection structure for forced prostitution remains weak given the lack of services dedicated specifically to victims of trafficking.

Recommendations for Japan: Dedicate more government resources to anti-trafficking efforts, including dedicated law enforcement units, trafficking-specific shelters, and legal aid for victims of trafficking; consider drafting and enacting a comprehensive anti-trafficking law prohibiting all forms of trafficking and prescribing sufficiently stringent penalties; significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and assign sufficiently stringent jail sentences to acts of forced labor, including within the foreign trainee program, and ensure that abuses reported to labor offices are referred to criminal authorities for investigation; enforce bans on deposits, punishment agreements, withholding of passports, and other practices that contribute to forced labor in the foreign trainee program; continue to increase efforts to enforce laws and stringently punish perpetrators of forced prostitution; make greater efforts to proactively investigate and, where warranted, punish government complicity in trafficking or trafficking-related offenses; further expand and implement formal victim identification procedures and train personnel who have contact with individuals arrested for prostitution, foreign trainees, or other migrants on the use of these procedures to identify a greater number of trafficking victims; ensure that victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; establish protection policies for all victims of trafficking, including male victims and victims of forced labor; ensure that protection services, including medical and legal services, are fully accessible to victims of trafficking by making them free and actively informing victims of their availability; and more aggressively investigate and, where warranted, prosecute and punish Japanese nationals who engage in child sex tourism.

Prosecution

The Japanese government took modest, but overall inadequate, steps to enforce laws against trafficking during the reporting period; while the government reportedly increased its law enforcement efforts against forced prostitution, it did not report any efforts to address forced labor. Japan does not have a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, but Japan's 2005 amendment to its criminal code, which prohibits the buying and selling of persons, and a variety of other criminal code articles and laws, could be used to prosecute some trafficking offenses. However, it is unclear if the existing legal framework is sufficiently comprehensive to criminalize all severe forms of trafficking in persons. These laws prescribe punishments ranging from one to 10 years' imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and generally commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes. During the reporting period, the government reported 19 investigations for offenses reported to be related to trafficking, resulting in the arrest of 24 individuals under a variety of laws, including immigration and anti-prostitution statutes. Given the incomplete nature of the government's data, it is not clear how many of these involve actual trafficking offenses. The government convicted 14 individuals of various trafficking-related offenses, though most were convicted under statutes other than those for human trafficking crimes. Of these 14 convicted offenders, six received non-suspended jail sentences ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 years plus fines, six received suspended jail sentences of approximately one to two years plus fines, and one was ordered to only pay a fine. Ten cases were not prosecuted for lack of evidence. These law enforcement efforts against sex forms of trafficking are an increase from the five convictions reported last year. The National Police Agency (NPA), Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Immigration, and the Public Prosecutor's office regularly trained officers on trafficking investigation and prosecution techniques, including training programs conducted by IOM and NGOs. In July 2010, the government distributed a 10-page manual to assist law enforcement, judicial and other government officers in identifying and investigating trafficking offenses and implementing victim protection measures.

Nonetheless, Japan made inadequate efforts to criminally investigate and punish acts of forced labor. Article 5 of Japan's Labor Standards Law prohibits forced labor and prescribes a penalty of one to 10 years' imprisonment or a fine ranging from $2,400 to $36,000, but is generally limited to acts committed by the employer. A July 2010 government ordinance bans the practices of requiring deposits from applicants to the foreign trainee program and imposing fines for misbehavior or early termination. Despite the availability of these prohibitions, however, authorities failed to arrest, prosecute, convict, or sentence to jail any individual for forced labor or other illegal practices contributing to forced labor in the foreign trainee program. The government investigated only three cases of suspected forced labor during the reporting period. Most cases of abuse taking place under the foreign trainee program are settled out of court or through administrative or civil hearings, resulting in penalties which are not sufficiently stringent or reflective of the heinous nature of the crime, such as fines. For example, in November 2010, the Labor Standards Office determined that a 31-year-old Chinese trainee officially died due to overwork; although he had worked over 80 hours per week for 12 months preceding his death without full compensation, the company received only a $6,000 fine as punishment and no individual was sentenced to imprisonment or otherwise held criminally responsible for his death.

In addition, the government failed to address government complicity in trafficking offenses. Although corruption remains a serious concern in the large and socially accepted entertainment industry in Japan, which includes the prostitution industry, the government did not report investigations, arrests, prosecutions, convictions, or jail sentences against any official for trafficking-related complicity during the reporting period.

Protection

The Government of Japan identified more victims of sex trafficking than last year, but its overall efforts to protect victims of trafficking, particularly victims of forced labor, remained weak. During the reporting period, 43 victims of trafficking for sexual purposes were identified, including a male victim – an increase from the 17 victims reported last year, though similar to the number identified in 2008 (37), and lower than the number of victims identified in each of the years from 2005 to 2007. Japanese authorities produced a manual entitled, "How to Treat Human Trafficking Cases: Measures Regarding the Identification of Victims" that was distributed to government agencies in July 2010 to identify victims of trafficking. The manual's focus, however, appears to be primarily on identifying the immigration status of foreign migrants and their methods of entering Japan, rather than identifying indicators of nonconsensual exploitation of the migrants. It is also unclear if this manual led to the identification of any victims and whether it was used widely throughout the country. Some victims were reportedly arrested or detained before authorities identified them as trafficking victims. Japan failed to identify any victims of forced labor during the reporting period despite ample evidence that many workers in the foreign trainee program face abuses indicative of forced labor. The government has no specific protection policy for victims of forced labor and it has never identified a victim of labor trafficking. Moreover, services provided to identified victims of trafficking for forced prostitution were inadequate. Japan continues to lack dedicated shelters for victims of trafficking. Of the identified victims, 32 received care at government shelters for domestic violence victims – Women's Consulting Centers (WCCs) – but these victims reportedly faced restrictions on movement outside of these multi-purpose shelters, and inadequate services inside them. Due to limitations on these shelters' space and language capabilities, WCCs sometimes referred victims to government-subsidized NGO shelters. For instance, due to the government's continued lack of protection services for male victims of trafficking, the one male victim identified during the reporting period received services at an NGO shelter. IOM provided protection to 20 foreign victims of trafficking during the reporting period with government funding. Although the government paid for victims' psychological services and related interpretation costs in the WCC shelters, some victims at NGO shelters did not receive this care. A government program exists to pay for all medical services incurred while a victim resides at the WCC, but the system for administering these services is not well organized and, as a result, some victims of trafficking did not receive all available care. The government-funded Legal Support Center provides pro bono legal services to destitute victims of crime, including trafficking victims, but information about available service was not always provided to victims in the government and NGO shelters. If a victim is a child, the WCC works with a local Child Guidance Center to provide shelter and services to the victim; the government reported that one victim was assisted in this manner during the reporting period. Furthermore, while authorities reported encouraging victims' participation in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, victims were not provided with any incentives for participation, such as the ability to work or otherwise generate income. In addition, the relative confinement of the WCC shelters and the inability of victims to work led most victims to seek repatriation. A long-term residency visa is available to persons identified as trafficking victims who fear returning to their home country, but only one person has ever applied for or received this benefit.

Prevention

The Japanese government made limited efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The Inter-ministerial Liaison Committee continued to meet, chaired by the cabinet secretary, and agreed on a "Public Awareness Roadmap" and released posters and distributed brochures aimed at raising awareness of trafficking. More than 33,000 posters and 50,000 leaflets were distributed to local governments, police stations, community centers, universities, immigration offices, and airports. NGOs, however, reported that this campaign had little effect and failed to reach the consumers of commercial sexual services. The Immigration Bureau conducted an online campaign to raise awareness of trafficking and used flyers to encourage local immigration offices to be alert for indications of trafficking. In July 2010, the government amended the rules of the foreign trainee program to allow first-year participants access to the Labor Standards Office and to ban the use of deposits and penalties for misbehavior or early termination, in order to prevent conditions of forced labor within this program and provide increased legal redress to participants of the program. The government did not report its efforts to enforce the ban on deposits and it is unclear whether the new rules contributed to a reduction in the number of cases of misconduct committed by the organizations that receive the interns. NGO sources report that brokers have instructed participants to deny the existence of these deposits or "punishment agreements" to Japanese authorities. The government continued to fund a number of anti-trafficking projects around the world. For years, a significant number of Japanese men have traveled to other Asian countries, particularly the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand, to engage in sex with children. Japan has the legal authority to prosecute Japanese nationals who engage in child sex tourism abroad and arrested one man under this law in February 2011; a total of eight persons have been convicted under this law since 2002. Japan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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