Japan Keep Trafficking in Persons

Women from poverty-stricken countries are lured to Japan by promises of good jobs and brought into the country by traffickers who supply them with false passports. After detention by a criminal syndicate, the women are sold off to sex clubs or other sex-related businesses and called upon to pay back a debt for various expenses allegedly incurred, such as for transportation. The amount ranges on average from 3 to 5 million yen. Victims are not informed of how much of their so-called debt they have paid back and are trapped into forced sex labour, continually sold from one shop to another.

The seriousness of this problem of human trafficking in Japan was highlighted by the U.S. State Department's 'Country Reports on Global Human Rights Practices' in February this year. The report found that women and children from around the world, including South-East Asia (especially, Thailand and the Philippines), Eastern Europe, and South America, were being 'smuggled' into Japan for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. Statistics vary, but, according to one estimate, there could be as many as 200,000 victims each year. Furthermore, it criticizes the Japanese government's handling of the situation as insufficient given the seriousness of the human rights violations involved. According to the report, official policies are entirely focused on charging and deporting such people as 'illegal' immigrants, rather than protecting them as victims of human trafficking. Poverty stricken in their home countries, exploited by the sex industry in Japan, subjected to cold treatment by the Japanese government and the Japanese people, these victims are truly forsaken by all.

In the international community, there has been an increasing wave of opposition to human trafficking - it was specifically targeted by the 'Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children', supplementing the 'United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime' treaty adopted at the UN General Assembly in 2000. Japan, however, after signing the treaty, is yet to ratify it. Furthermore, according to another U.S. State Department report in June last year concerning the provision of laws for the elimination of human trafficking and the protection of its victims, Japan was the only G7 nation to be categorized in 'Tier 2' (out of a total three levels). It was also one of 42 countries placed on the 'watch list' for being in danger of falling to 'Tier 3'. The ten countries in 'Level 3', which include North Korea and Cuba, are those which may be subject to economic sanctions by the U.S. for failing to take significant actions to comply with the basic standards for the prevention of human trafficking and the protection of its victims.

Such international criticism has finally stirred the Japanese government to make some effort - for example, to increase the enforcement of existing legislation such as the Labor Standards Law and the Immigration Control Law, to hammer out a policy of not immediately deporting victims, and to enact the "Trafficking in Persons" legislation in the current session of the Diet. It is indeed necessary to continue such efforts in order to respond to the demands of the international community and to ratify and implement the above treaty without delay.

However, there is still no focus on the root cause of the problem; namely the contradictory nature of Japan's immigration policies and economic structure. While foreign workers are ostensibly unwelcome in Japan, it is in reality the labor of these 'illegal' immigrants which sustains Japanese society at its lower levels. Is it not this demand for large numbers of 'illegal' immigrants which gives rise to both the organized crime rings that seek to profit as mediators in human trafficking, as well as the victims of forced labour and sexual exploitation?

I was not aware of the severity of the problem of human trafficking in my own country and my research has left me in disbelief and shock that such primitive acts can still be happening. Likewise, Japanese people in general are unaware of the realities of the situation regarding the victims of human trafficking and the inhumane working conditions for foreigners in Japan. From the perspective of recent population movements and the social climate, it is now commonly accepted that the exclusion of immigrants from the Japanese economic structure is not a valid option. Thus, upon first scrutinizing the harsh conditions of foreign labourers, can we not find some way of working together harmoniously?

In the process, from a gender perspective we must also reassess the social structure which forces women to work in the sex industry. A hotly debated topic of the Gender Law conference in December last year, human trafficking will continue to be a central concern for us all in future.

ICU undergraduate : Shimizu, Yudai