The government maintained inadequate law enforcement efforts. Japan did not have a comprehensive anti-trafficking statute that included definitions in line with international law. It criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking offenses through disparate penal code 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 Japanese yen ($970) if fraudulent or coercive means were used, and up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 yen ($970) 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 ($1,940) 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 it prescribed a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. The government 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 3 million yen ($29,100), or both. The Employment Security Act (ESA) and the Labor Standards Act (LSA) both criminalized forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 3 million yen ($29,100). However, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) reported the definition of “forced labor” under the LSA was narrower than the definition of human trafficking under international law and—in practice—rare cases charged as “forced labor” under the LSA were not treated as human trafficking crimes. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the LSA did not include exploitation as an essential element of the crime. As in the previous reporting period, many prosecutors reportedly avoided using the ESA and LSA due to a perception that the relatively high penalties were more likely to trigger appellate processes that would decrease their overall conviction rates and negatively affect their professional standing. When 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. Civil society organizations reported that reliance on these 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. The government did not have any laws that prohibited employers, recruiters, or labor agents from confiscating either Japanese or foreign workers’ passports, travel, or other identity documents, except for TITP participants, for whom passport or residential identification confiscation was prohibited. However, the government did not report if it enforced this law or penalized any employers or agencies for withholding TITP participants’ documents during the reporting period. Japanese law—enacted in 2017—contained a provision that criminalized bribery of witnesses, which would allow authorities additional grounds to pursue obstruction of justice charges against some traffickers. However, for the third consecutive year, the government did not report to what extent it implemented this for trafficking cases.
From January 2020 to December 2020, the government investigated 40 cases of sex trafficking involving 48 suspected perpetrators and 15 cases of labor trafficking involving 10 suspected perpetrators; of the 58 total suspects, the police arrested 57 and referred the remaining suspect—a child—to a prosecutor to be handled in family court. This compared with the government’s investigation and arrest of 39 suspected perpetrators of trafficking in 2019. In 2020, courts initiated the prosecution of a total of 50 alleged traffickers, 42 for sex trafficking and eight for labor trafficking. Of the 50 perpetrators, 15 were pending trial at the end of the reporting period, and two were sent to family court. The government convicted 50 perpetrators during the reporting period, including cases that were initiated in previous reporting periods. Out of the 50 convicted, courts sentenced 36 traffickers to prison terms of eight months’ to 13 years’; however, courts fully suspended 26 of these sentences, resulting in the traffickers serving no prison time. Ten traffickers received a sentence to serve imprisonment; courts sentenced 14 of the 50 traffickers to financial penalties only, with fines ranging from 50,000 yen ($485) to 800,000 yen ($7,760). The 50 perpetrators were convicted under a range of laws pertaining to the prostitution of adults and children, child welfare, immigration, and employment standards, including—but not limited to—the Child Welfare Act and the Act on Regulation and Punishment of Acts Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Protection of Children. In comparison, in 2019, courts prosecuted 32 alleged traffickers and secured 22 convictions under various laws, with only three of those convicted serving prison time that ranged from 10 months’ to two and a half years’. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.
Despite the known prevalence of forced labor indicators within the TITP program, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any individuals for involvement in the forced labor of TITP participants; the government’s reluctance to identify suspected traffickers within this program allowed exploitative employers to operate with impunity. The Labour Standard Bureau within MHLW provisionally reported conducting 8,124 inspections of TITP workplaces in 2020 (9,454 inspections in 2019) and investigating 5,766 employers of TITP participants for violations of labor standards laws and regulations. As a result, the Labour Standard Bureau referred 36 cases to prosecutors for investigation in 2020, compared with 33 referred for investigation in 2019. However, the government did not report whether any of the referrals were for labor trafficking crimes. Service provision NGOs reported repeated attempts to draw attention to specific allegations of forced labor occurring within TITP worksites, but the government did not proactively investigate the majority of these allegations for potential trafficking crimes and did not identify any cases of forced labor within the program. The government reported it revoked TITP plans from an unknown number of implementing organizations as an administrative penalty for allegations of abuse or assault against TITP participants; the government, however, did not initiate criminal investigations of these incidences of alleged trafficking. Despite Japanese law prohibiting the confiscation of passports and travel documents of TITP participants, the government did not initiate any investigations of employers that allegedly violated this law. NGOs reported courts set prohibitively high evidentiary standards for forced labor cases involving foreign victims, including overreliance on physical indicators of abuse in lieu of evidence supporting psychological coercion, thereby stymying appropriate law enforcement action.
The government reported it did not investigate or prosecute cases involving child commercial sexual exploitation under trafficking statutes because, in practice, authorities did not formally identify children in commercial sexual exploitation as sex trafficking victims unless a third-party facilitated the commercial sex acts. The government reported more than 600 instances of “child prostitution” involving more than 500 perpetrators, but the government did not investigate these cases for potential trafficking crimes—including whether or not they involved a third-party facilitator—and it failed to identify the vast majority of the 379 children involved in these cases as trafficking victims. In previous years, authorities also processed hundreds of such cases involving children in commercial sexual exploitation without formally identifying them as trafficking crimes (784 cases in 2019; more than 700 cases in 2018; 956 cases in 2017). Experts noted the lack of efforts by law enforcement to treat child sex trafficking cases appropriately was permissive of and perpetuated the continued commission of the crime; it continued to minimize the prevalence of the crime; and it resulted in weak—if any—efforts to hold traffickers accountable and protect victims.
For the third consecutive year, the government did not report law enforcement action taken against child sex trafficking in Joshi kosei or “JK” businesses—dating services connecting adult men with underage high school girls—and in coerced pornography operations. Eight major prefectures maintained ordinances banning “JK” businesses, prohibiting girls younger than 18 from working in “compensated dating services,” or requiring “JK” business owners to register their employee rosters with local public safety commissions. Like the previous reporting period, authorities did not report how many such operations they identified or shuttered for violating the terms of the ordinances (unreported in 2019; 137 identified and none closed in 2018), nor did they report arresting any individuals alleged to have been engaged in criminal activities surrounding the “JK” business (unreported in 2019; 69 arrested in 2018). Some authorities were reportedly unaware of the crime or unsure how to prosecute it, often citing prohibitively high evidentiary standards.
In April 2020, the National Police Agency (NPA) issued a circular to prefectural police nationwide which directed them to identify trafficking cases and coordinate with other relevant agencies; however, the circular did not provide additional guidance or procedures that would assist police in identifying such cases. During the reporting period, the government provided anti-trafficking trainings to various ministries, including OTIT and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA); the government postponed or canceled some trainings, including those conducted by an international organization. Contacts continued to report an acute need for additional training to address the lack of awareness among key law enforcement officials and judicial stakeholders.