Last Updated: Friday, 31 October 2014, 13:33 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Japan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 16 June 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Japan, 16 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a4214b0c.html [accessed 31 October 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 one of several destinations and transit countries to which men, women, and children are trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Women and children from East Asia, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia, South America, and Latin America are trafficked to Japan for commercial sexual exploitation and male and female migrant workers from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asian countries are sometimes subject to conditions of forced labor. Most officially identified trafficking victims are foreign women who migrate willingly to Japan seeking work, but are later subjected to debts of up to $50,000 that make them vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation or labor exploitation. A significant number of Japanese women and girls have also been reported as sex trafficking victims. During the last year, a number of Paraguayan children were trafficked to Japan for the purpose of forced labor. Traffickers occasionally use debts to coerce migrants into prostitution in Japan's large sex trade. Many foreign and Japanese women initially enter the sex industry voluntarily, only to find themselves victims of involuntary servitude. In addition to severe economic coercion, trafficked women are sometimes subjected to coercive or violent physical and psychological methods to prevent them from seeking assistance or escaping. Most independent observers and organized crime experts believe that organized crime syndicates (the Yakuza) continue to play a significant role in trafficking, both directly and indirectly. Traffickers are increasingly targeting Japanese women and girls for coerced exploitation in pornography and the sex industry. Female victims, both foreign and Japanese, are often reluctant to seek help from authorities for fear of shame or of reprisals by their traffickers. 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.

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. The government increased the number of sex trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2008, yet most convicted offenders of trafficking were given suspended sentences. Japan has not yet effectively addressed the problem of trafficking for labor exploitation. The government's efforts to identify victims of trafficking remained inadequate.

Recommendations for Japan: Expand proactive law enforcement efforts to investigate trafficking in commercial sex businesses, especially in rural areas and including call-girl services ("delivery health"), "enjo-kosai"; (compensated dating) sites, and social networking sites; establish 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 crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked; increase prosecutions for labor trafficking; send periodic formal instructions to the National Police Agency and to Japanese embassies and consulates instructing officials to cooperate with foreign authorities in investigating Japanese nationals involved in possible child sexual exploitation; continue to increase the availability and use of translation services and psychological counselors with native language ability at shelters for victims; and inform all identified victims of the availability of free legal assistance and options for immigration relief.

Prosecution

The Government of Japan demonstrated some law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in the last year, but did not impose adequate sentences for most convicted trafficking offenders. The government did not adequately address the problem of trafficking for labor exploitation during the reporting period. The government reported 29 prosecutions and 13 convictions in 2008, all of which were for sex trafficking offenses. This is compared to 11 prosecutions and 12 convictions in 2007. Offenders received sentences ranging from six months to four years' imprisonment with labor. Eleven of the 13 convicted offenders received suspended sentences, however, and were not punished with imprisonment. The government did not sufficiently pursue investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of organized crime groups engaged both directly and indirectly in trafficking. Arrests tend to be limited to street level operators. Japan's 2005 amendment to its criminal code and a variety of other criminal code articles and laws, including the Labor Standards Law, the Prostitution Prevention Law, the Child Welfare Law, and the Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography criminalize trafficking and a wide range of related activities. However, it is unclear if the existing legal framework is sufficiently comprehensive to criminalize all severe forms of trafficking in persons. The 2005 criminal code amendment prescribes penalties of up to seven years' imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent. Application of these statutes, however, has been hindered by the difficulty of establishing the level of documentary evidence required for proving a trafficking crime. Labor exploitation, including forced labor, continues to be widely reported by labor unions, NGOs, shelters, and the media. Based on calls to government-sponsored assistance hotlines, NGOs estimate that approximately five percent, or over 3,400 foreign workers recruited as "trainees" in 2008, were potential victims of labor trafficking. The Immigration Bureau and Labor Standard Inspection Bodies continued to report hundreds of abuses by companies involved in the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program (the "foreign trainee program"). Some reported abuses included fraudulent terms of employment, restrictions on movement, withholding of salary payments, and debt bondage. According to labor rights groups trainees sometimes had their travel documents taken from them and their movement controlled to prevent escape. In a few companies, trainees were reportedly forced to work unpaid overtime, and wages were automatically deposited into company controlled accounts, despite the illegality of such forced deposits. There were no convictions for labor trafficking during the reporting period. The government is beginning to exhibit efforts to monitor and regulate its foreign trainee program, though it has not yet taken steps to investigate, prosecute, and convict any potential offenders of labor trafficking in the program. NGOs working with illegal workers in Japan reported the government's reluctance to consider any illegal workers as trafficking victims, defining them instead as victims of contract fraud. During the reporting period, there was a media report of an ex-government official accepting a $54,000 bribe to use government connections to facilitate the granting of entertainment visas to 280 Filipina women who were to perform in charity concerts but ended up working as hostesses in bars. Officials in the Department of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted the visas. The government has not investigated or prosecuted any individuals allegedly involved in this possible trafficking-related corruption case, citing a lack of evidence.

Protection

Victim protection remained inadequate during the reporting period. The number of trafficking victims identified by the Japanese government declined for the third consecutive year. Law enforcement authorities identified 36 victims in 2008, down from 43 victims in 2007, 58 in 2006, and 116 in 2005. This number is thought to be disproportionately low relative to the suspected magnitude of Japan's trafficking problem. Despite reports by both official and private entities of labor exploitation, the government only identified one victim of labor trafficking in 2008, which was associated with a sex trafficking case. NGOs working with trafficking victims continue to express concerns based on interaction with trafficking victims that the government is not sufficiently proactive in searching for victims among vulnerable populations such as foreign workers and foreign women in the sex trade. Expanded government collaboration with NGOs is likely one of the most effective tools the government has available in its efforts to combat trafficking. The government repatriated 18 of 36 identified trafficking victims without referring them to IOM for risk assessment and formal repatriation processing in 2008. According to the government, these early repatriations were at the request of the victim. Japan does not have formal victim identification procedures, nor does it dedicate government law enforcement or social services personnel solely to the human trafficking issue. During the reporting period, the Immigration Bureau created a database of trafficking cases. NGOs familiar with regular training courses given to police, judges, and prosecutors, expressed the desire that such courses be further improved, as some potential victims appear to have been punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked, including for immigration violations. The government does not appear to consistently recognize victims who initially enter into the commercial sex industry willingly, but later find themselves to be victims of trafficking. In October 2008, police conducted a raid on a commercial sex establishment and identified 12 Thai trafficking victims. Three women who may also have been trafficking victims were not taken into custody because they were not considered illegal immigrants. These three have since overstayed their visas and are missing, indicating the need for greater law enforcement training on victim identification, quick access to trained, native language trafficking counselors to overcome the distrust of police commonly found in potential victims, and better incentives offered by the Government of Japan to potential victims in terms of retraining and the possibility of legal avenues of employment.

Thirty of the 33 identified trafficking victims in 2008 were housed in government shelters – Women's Consulting Centers (WCCs). The victims had access to subsidized medical care and some victims received psychological care while in the WCCs. While in shelters or assisting in trials, victims have never been permitted to obtain employment or otherwise generate income. This lack of opportunity to generate income, coupled with the trauma of being a victim of trafficking, is a likely factor leading most victims to agree to repatriation to their home country. NGOs report that, although the government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes, the government did not provide victims with an environment conducive to cooperation. While the government can legally provide incentives for cooperation, such as the opportunity to work, there were no victims who were provided this type of assistance in 2008. To date there have been no reported cases where the government provided legal assistance to a trafficking victim. The government has the capacity to provide long-term residency visas for trafficking victims, but no foreign trafficking victim has been granted such a visa as yet. Japan continued to provide the IOM $300,000 a year for repatriation and reintegration assistance.

Prevention

The Government of Japan continued to improve its efforts to increase awareness of trafficking during the reporting period. The government continued distribution of approximately 30,000 posters and 50,000 leaflets to local governments, embassies, airports, harbors, and NGOs. The Immigration Bureau continued to distribute trafficking awareness leaflets in five languages. The National Police University began to teach classes and seminars on trafficking during the reporting period. In order to reduce Japanese demand for child sex tourism, the government displayed posters on child sex tourism in airports and at harbor facilities. A significant number of Japanese men continue to travel to other Asian countries, particularly the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand, to engage in sex with children. Despite Japanese courts' extraterritorial jurisdiction overJapanese nationals who have sexually exploited children ina foreign country, the government did not prosecute any Japanese nationals for child sex tourism during the reporting period. This also is an area that is cause for concern. The government conducted periodic police raids of prostitution establishments, including some raids on Internet-based forms of commercial sex, but did not make any other efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. During the reporting period, the government began funding a $5 million project to protect victims of trafficking in Southeast Asia, and continued to fund a number of other anti-trafficking projects around the world. Japan has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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