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JAPAN: Tier 1

The Government of Japan fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government made key achievements to do so during the reporting period; therefore Japan was upgraded to Tier 1. These achievements included establishing a new interagency taskforce to combat child sex trafficking in Joshi kosei or “JK” businesses—dating services connecting adult men with underage girls—and in forced pornography; operationalizing regulations and a new oversight mechanism for its Technical Intern Training Program (TITP); and acceding to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. Although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities continued to prosecute traffickers under laws carrying lesser sentences, which courts often suspended in lieu of incarceration. Many suspected cases of child sex trafficking and forced labor were addressed with administrative penalties or loss of business licenses rather than through criminal investigations and proceedings. The government was unable to fully enforce TITP reform law provisions aimed at blocking foreign-based recruitment agencies from charging excessive fees—a key driver of debt bondage among TITP participants. Authorities detained, charged, and in some cases deported TITP interns who absconded from exploitative conditions in their contracted agencies, rather than screening them and referring them to protective services.

Vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases, and hold convicted traffickers accountable by imposing strong sentences; amend anti-trafficking laws to remove sentencing provisions that allow fines in lieu of imprisonment and to increase the penalties prescribed for trafficking crimes to include a maximum of no less than four years imprisonment; increase resources to provide specialized care and assistance to trafficking victims, including designated shelters for trafficking victims, and ensure these services are also available to both foreign and male victims; continue to implement the TITP reform law’s oversight and enforcement measures, including by increasing employer inspections and terminating contracts with foreign recruitment agencies charging excessive commissions or fees; increase enforcement of bans on “punishment” agreements, passport withholding, and other practices by organizations and employers that contribute to forced labor; enhance victim screening to ensure victims, including migrant workers under the TITP program and children, are properly identified and referred to services, and not detained or forcibly deported for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; and aggressively investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish Japanese citizens who engage in child sex tourism overseas.

The government increased some law enforcement efforts. Japan did not have a comprehensive anti-trafficking statute that included definitions in line with international standards. However, it criminalized sex and labor trafficking offenses through disparate laws pertaining to prostitution of adults and children, child welfare, immigration, and employment standards. Article 7 of the Prostitution Prevention Law criminalized inducing others into prostitution and prescribed penalties of up to three years imprisonment or a fine of up to 100,000 yen ($890) if fraudulent or coercive means were used, and up to three years imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 yen ($890) if force or threats were used. Article 8 of the same law increased penalties to up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 yen ($1,780) if the defendant received, entered into a contract to receive, or demanded compensation for crimes committed under Article 7. The “Act on Regulation and Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Pornography and the Protection of Children” criminalized engaging in, acting as an intermediary for, and soliciting the commercial sexual exploitation of a child and prescribed penalties of up to five years imprisonment, a fine, or both. The act also criminalized the purchase or sale of children for the purpose of exploiting them through prostitution or the production of child pornography, and prescribed a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. The government reportedly also prosecuted trafficking-related offenses using the Child Welfare Act, which broadly criminalized transporting or harboring children for the purpose of causing them to commit an obscene or harmful act and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment, or a fine of up to 1 million yen ($8,880), or both. The Employment Security Act and the Labor Standards Act both criminalized forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 3 million yen ($26,650). When prescribed penalties allowed for fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking, they were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, the government issued sentencing guidelines at the end of the reporting period directing prosecutors not to pursue fines in lieu of imprisonment in trafficking cases. Penalties prescribed for trafficking crimes were sufficiently stringent. With respect to sex trafficking and in light of the aforementioned sentencing guidelines regarding fines, these penalties were also commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Civil society organizations reported reliance on this series of overlapping statutes continued to hinder the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving forced labor with elements of psychological coercion.

In July 2017, Japan passed a law containing a provision that criminalized bribery of witnesses, which would allow the authorities additional grounds to pursue obstruction of justice charges against some traffickers. However, the government did not report to what extent it implemented this during the reporting period. The government did not report the number of investigations into crimes related to trafficking it initiated in 2017 (44 in 2016), but courts prosecuted 26 individuals (43 in 2016), leading to 23 convictions (37 in 2016). Six of the 23 convicted traffickers received only fines. Authorities sentenced the remaining 17 traffickers to two to four years imprisonment, but only incarcerated five of them; the remaining 12 received suspended sentences, allowing them to avoid serving prison terms. The government did not report convicting any individuals for involvement in the forced labor of TITP participants. However, following on-site inspection of TITP implementing organizations, the Labor Standards Office and regional immigration authorities referred 34 cases of “severe” labor abuses to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for further criminal investigation (40 referrals to prosecution for lesser violations in 2016); the government did not report whether these cases included forced labor indicators, or whether they culminated in prosecutions. NGOs claimed courts set prohibitively high evidentiary standards for forced labor cases involving foreign victims, thereby stymying appropriate law enforcement action. The government also reported identifying and initiating investigations into 956 cases of “children in prostitution”—a form of sex trafficking—compared with 809 in 2016. Authorities reported convicting three individuals under “child prostitution” provisions in the “Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Protection of Children,” but this figure only included “child prostitution” cases the government formally recognized as trafficking; the true number of convictions under these provisions was likely much higher. Authorities increased law enforcement action against child sexual exploitation in “JK” businesses and in coerced pornography operations. Police arrested and charged the head of an entertainment industry job placement agency and the operator of a pornographic video production company for inducing women and girls to engage in sexual intercourse for the purpose of profit—the first application of this criminal statute in over 80 years. However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office did not prosecute the suspects. Police also arrested the owner of a prominent online DVD sales business for subjecting women, including a minor, to forced participation in pornography. The owner was initially convicted and given a suspended sentence, which the prosecutors successfully appealed; he was then re-sentenced to two years and six months imprisonment with a fine of 300,000 yen ($2,670). In an effort to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly passed an ordinance in July 2017 prohibiting girls under 18 from working in compensated dating services and requiring “JK” business owners to register their employee rosters with the city’s public safety commission. Authorities identified 114 of these operations nationwide in 2017, of which they closed 14 for violating the terms of the ordinance. Courts then initiated prosecution under the Labor Standards Act against the owner of one such establishment for subjecting three underage girls to sex trafficking; the case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government continued to provide training on investigative methods and victim identification for police officers, prosecutors, judges, and immigration bureau officials.

The government increased some efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified 46 trafficking victims, compared with 50 in 2016, in addition to 956 children exploited in commercial sex. The government increased efforts to screen for, identify, and provide appropriate protective services to victims among vulnerable groups, including girls subjected to labor and sex trafficking in the “JK” business. Of these 46 victims, the government identified 31 female sex trafficking victims (37 in 2016) and three labor trafficking victims (four in 2016), along with 12 additional victims of forced labor who were also likely subjected to sex trafficking (nine in 2016). National Police Agency (NPA) officials continued to use an IOM-developed handbook and the Inter-Ministerial Liaison Committee’s manuals to identify and refer victims to available protective services. The NPA also distributed a handbill for potential victims with emergency contact information in 10 languages. Only one victim identified in 2017 was male, and the government has never identified a forced labor victim within the TITP despite substantial evidence of trafficking indicators. Authorities continued to arrest and deport TITP participants—particularly those from Vietnam—who escaped forced labor and other abusive conditions in their contracted agencies. Despite identifying 956 cases of children exploited in commercial sex, police officially identified only six children as sex trafficking victims during the reporting period (10 in 2016); authorities continued to separate these statistics based on persistent definitional discrepancies that may have impacted service provision and proper law enforcement action. Police continued to treat some potential child sex trafficking victims as delinquents, counseling them on their behavior instead of screening them for victim status, investigating their cases, or referring them to specialized services; authorities arrested and initially charged some child victims in connection with their trafficking situations, though NGOs reported the authorities later dropped all such charges in 2017.

As in prior years, the government did not fund trafficking-specific shelters, but it continued to fund shelters run by Women’s Consulting Offices (WCOs) and those for victims of domestic violence. These shelters reported assisting 16 of the 46 victims identified in 2017 (15 in 2016), at least one of whom was under 18. An unknown number of additional victims received assistance in NGO shelters, where they could access government-subsidized medical care. WCO shelters provided food and other basic needs, psychological care, and coverage of medical expenses to victims, who were free to leave the facilities if accompanied by WCO personnel. The government allocated over 3.5 million yen ($31,100) for sheltering male trafficking victims, although it was unclear whether the sole male victim identified in 2017 received direct government assistance. The availability and quality of victim services varied according to prefecture-level officials’ relative experience with trafficking cases.

The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) continued to partially fund an NGO-run general counseling hotline for foreign workers, but it was not trafficking-specific. The immigration bureau operated a similar hotline through which two victims were identified during the reporting period. Police also ran a general hotline through a private entity that fielded over 20,000 complaints in 2017, 182 of which were trafficking-related. This hotline was only available in the Japanese language, and none of the calls culminated in positive victim identification. The government continued to fund a program through an international organization to provide counseling, temporary refuge, social reintegration, and repatriation services to trafficking victims. Through this program, seven foreign victims received repatriation assistance (23 in 2016), and another eight who had been repatriated in previous years benefited from social reintegration services. Despite the existence of these services, international organizations and NGOs reported most foreign trafficking victims had limited or no access to other government-provided social services from which legal resident victims could benefit. NGOs highlighted a lack of language interpretation services as a particular challenge to the protection of foreign victims.

Although the law ostensibly protected victims from denial of entry into or deportation from Japan, inadequate screening of vulnerable groups reportedly led to the arrest and deportation of some victims due to immigration violations or other crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. NGOs noted increased cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to tighten victim screening of Japanese-Filipino children entering the country on residency arrangements, but authorities did not report whether this led to any positive identification. Temporary, long-term, and permanent residence benefits were available to foreign victims who feared the repercussions of returning to their countries of origin. In 2017, the government reported granting two long-term visas and 16 short-term visas to victims under these circumstances (compared with zero and 24, respectively, in 2016); some victims identified in 2017 already had residence permits at the time of identification. Victims had the right to file civil suits to seek compensation from their traffickers; some foreign workers, including potentially unidentified victims, and sex trafficking victims filed civil suits for non-payment of wages in 2017. However, companies ordered to provide restitution often filed for bankruptcy, making restitution awards nearly impossible. Civil society organizations reported some victims of coerced pornography chose not to participate in court proceedings against their traffickers out of fear that doing so would create stigma-based challenges to their reintegration and rehabilitation.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. It produced its third annual report on government actions to combat trafficking and tracked measures against the stated goals of its anti-trafficking action plan. Authorities began implementing the 2016 Act on Proper Technical Intern Training and Protection of Technical Intern Trainees (TITP reform law), which aimed to establish criminal penalties for certain labor abuses, increase oversight and accountability within the program, and expand participants’ freedom to change employers at will, among other improvements. Under the auspices of this law, the government established the Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT), which increased on-site inspections of both implementing and supervising organizations and provided over 1,300 participants with multilingual consultation services. The law also mandated the MHLW to approve work plans outlining living conditions, working hours, and other factors developed jointly by incoming TITP participants and their employers; authorities reported approving over 30,000 of these in the five months following enactment of the law. Despite an increase in inspections leading to a range of administrative and law enforcement actions, NGOs reported the OTIT was too understaffed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse within such a large program—particularly as the number of participants continued to grow. Observers remained concerned that most TITP participants still did not have the right to change employers once in Japan; some participants reportedly absconded from abusive conditions in their contracted workplaces, thereby violating the terms of their visas and becoming more vulnerable to trafficking in unemployment.

In an attempt to prevent TITP participants from incurring high debts in their sending countries, the government entered into memoranda of cooperation with Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Laos, Mongolia, and the Philippines, affirming it would accept TITP trainees only from state-approved organizations that would not charge participants excessive fees. However, some sending organizations in these countries were able to circumvent the fee restrictions and still secure their respective governments’ approval by charging high “commissions” in lieu of fees; trainees from these countries therefore remained vulnerable to debt bondage once in Japan. The Labor Standards Inspection Office conducted 299 on-site investigations into allegations of TITP employer misconduct, leading to “corrective notifications” for 213 organizations and at least four ongoing criminal investigations for “severe abuses.” The MOJ also banned three companies, 27 supervising organizations, and 183 implementing organizations from receiving TITP interns in 2017, compared with two, 25, and 202, respectively, in 2016.

Authorities continued to advertise the multilingual emergency contact hotline number at local police and immigration offices, through NGOs, and in consultations with source countries’ governments. The government raised awareness on trafficking by disseminating information online and through radio programs, posters, and brochures, as well as through leaflets distributed to NGOs, immigration and labor offices, and diplomatic missions in Japan and abroad. The government continued to distribute posters and brochures in transportation hubs and to travelers warning that Japanese citizens could face prosecution if suspected of having engaged in child sex tourism overseas. The government had extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute Japanese nationals who engaged in child sexual exploitation abroad, but authorities did not report exercising this jurisdiction. NGOs lauded the government’s initiation of a high-level interagency taskforce, led by the Minister for Gender Equality, to address violence against children perpetrated through forced participation in pornographic films and the “JK”-business. In July, Japan passed a law approving UNTOC and became a State Party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the last five years, Japan is a destination, source, and transit country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, and for children subjected to sex trafficking. Male and female migrant workers, mainly from Asia, are subjected to conditions of forced labor, including in Japanese government-run programs. Men, women, and children from Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, South America, and Africa travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage and are subjected to sex trafficking. Japan’s fast-growing foreign student population is also vulnerable to trafficking in the unskilled labor sector. Traffickers use fraudulent marriages between foreign women and Japanese men to facilitate the entry of women into Japan for forced prostitution in bars, clubs, brothels, and massage parlors. Traffickers keep victims in forced labor or forced prostitution using debt bondage, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, passport retention, and other psychologically coercive methods. Most victims are required to pay employers fees for living expenses, medical care, and other necessities, leaving them vulnerable to debt bondage. Brothel operators sometimes arbitrarily impose “fines” on victims for alleged misbehavior as a tactic to extend their indebtedness. Trafficking victims reportedly transit Japan before being exploited in onward destinations, including East Asia and North America.

Japanese citizens—particularly runaway teenage girls—are also subjected to sex trafficking. Enjo kosai, also known as “compensated dating,” and variants of the “JK” business continue to facilitate the sex trafficking of Japanese children. Highly organized prostitution networks target vulnerable Japanese women and girls—often living in poverty or with cognitive disabilities—in public spaces such as subways, popular youth hangouts, schools, and online, and subject them to sex trafficking. Some groups posing as model and actor placement agencies use fraudulent recruitment techniques to coerce Japanese men, women, and underage girls into signing vague contracts and then threaten them with legal action or the release of compromising photographs to force them to participate in pornographic films. Private Japanese immigration brokers help Japanese-Filipino children and their Filipina mothers move to Japan and acquire citizenship for a significant fee, which the mothers often incur large debts to pay; upon arrival, some of these women and their children are subjected to sex trafficking to pay off the debts. Organized crime syndicates posing as immigration brokers also lure these families to Japan with deceptive job offers, and then subject the women to forced labor in the nightlife industry. Japanese men remain a source of demand for child sex tourism in Thailand and other countries in Asia.

Cases of forced labor occur within the TITP, a government-run program originally designed to foster basic technical skills among foreign workers that has effectively become a guest-worker program. TITP participants from Burma, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam pay sending organizations in their home countries up to $10,000 in excessive fees, deposits, or vague “commissions”—despite new international agreements aimed at curbing the practice—to secure jobs in fishing, construction, and manufacturing. Many participants are placed in jobs that do not teach or develop technical skills, contrary to the program’s original intent; others are placed in jobs that do not match the duties they agreed upon beforehand. Some of these workers experience restricted freedom of movement, passport confiscation, threats of deportation, and other conditions of forced labor. Some sending organizations require participants to sign “punishment agreements” charging thousands of dollars in penalties if they fail to comply with their labor contracts. Some participants who abscond from their contracted TITP jobs are reportedly subjected to sex trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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