The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Japan’s criminal code does not prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons as defined by international law; the government relies on various provisions of laws relating to prostitution, abduction, child welfare, and employment to prosecute trafficking in persons crimes. Article 7 of the Prostitution Prevention Law criminalizes forced prostitution, including by threat or the use of violence and inducing a person into prostitution by deception, embarrassment, or taking advantage of influence through kinship. When deception is used, the punishment is a maximum of three years imprisonment or a fine; when violence or threats are used, the punishment is a maximum of three years imprisonment, or three years imprisonment and a fine, respectively. Other related provisions such as articles 10 and 12 make it a crime to conclude a contract or to own a business in which a person is made to engage in prostitution, and violations of these articles carry respective punishments of a maximum of three years imprisonment or a fine of ¥10,000 ($85), and a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and a fine up to ¥300,000 ($2,560). An act related to sexual exploitation of children criminalizes the “trafficking of children for the purpose of child prostitution” and prescribes sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment. When prosecuting child sex trafficking cases that do not meet the conditions of this act, the government frequently relies upon the 1947 Child Welfare Act, which broadly criminalizes harming a child—to include causing a child to commit an obscene act, delivering a child to another knowing that the other is likely to cause the child to commit such an act, or keeping a child with the intent of causing a child to commit an act harmful to the child. The Child Welfare Act prescribes sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment, fines, or both for causing a child to commit an obscene act, or up to three years imprisonment, fines, or both for other acts. Article 226-2 of the penal code criminalizes the buying and selling of human beings for profit or indecency, and prescribes a maximum sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment. It also criminalizes buying and selling a person for the purpose of transporting him or her across international borders, and prescribes a penalty that ranges from two years to 20 years imprisonment. The Employment Security Act makes it a crime for a person to engage in labor placement or recruitment “by means of violence, intimidation, confinement, or other unjust restraint on mental or physical freedom” or to recruit laborers for “work harmful to public health or morals.” It prescribes sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding ¥3 million ($25,630). Article 5 of the Labor Standards Act prohibits forced labor through the use of physical violence, intimidation, confinement, or any other means which unfairly restrict the mental or physical freedom of workers. While the law criminalizes the recruitment of labor by force, it does not clearly criminalize using fraud or coercion to compel a person to labor. The government states that acts such as transporting, transferring, or receiving someone for the purpose of forced labor are implicitly criminalized under article 227 paragraph 3 of the penal code. To the extent that Japan’s laws criminalizing trafficking offenses provide penalties of at least four years imprisonment, they are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes. However, to the extent that they allow for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the punishment for sex trafficking offenses is not commensurate with those for other serious crime, such as rape. Civil society organizations cited the absence of a comprehensive trafficking law as hindering the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking cases.
The government reported investigating 44 cases for crimes related to human trafficking in 2016, the same as in 2015. It initiated prosecution of 43 suspected traffickers in 2016 (26 in 2015) and convicted 37 traffickers (27 in 2015) during the reporting period. Ten of the 37 convicted traffickers received only fines. The government did not prosecute or convict any suspected traffickers involved in the use of TITP labor. However, as a result of labor inspections in TITP work places, it referred 40 cases for prosecution as labor violations that carry lesser penalties. The government reported investigating 809 cases of “children in prostitution,” which is a form of sex trafficking, compared with 728 in 2015. In 2015, the most recent year statistics were available, the government prosecuted 495 people and convicted 409 defendants (including defendants prosecuted before 2015) under article 4 (Child Prostitution) of the “Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children.” The government continued to conduct numerous anti-trafficking trainings for police officers, prosecutors, judges, and immigration bureau officers on identifying victims and investigating trafficking cases. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.