The government maintained insufficient efforts to protect victims, including by consistently failing to formally identify trafficking victims within the TITP and among children in commercial sexual exploitation. In 2021, the government identified 47 total trafficking victims, which included 31 sex trafficking victims—only one of which was a foreign national and 18 were children—and 16 labor trafficking victims; 10 of the total number of victims were Filipina who were forced to work as “hostesses” at bars and who the government identified as victims of labor trafficking. This compared with 38 total trafficking victims identified in 2020, which included seven Filipina victims forced to work as “hostesses.” However, lack of standardized guidelines, poor coordination among ministries, and misunderstanding of sex and labor trafficking crimes among all relevant agencies contributed to the government’s inadequate efforts to identify and protect victims. The government did not have nationwide standard operating procedures or guidelines for officials to identify victims, even for victims that reported a crime themselves, which thereby impeded their access to care. Interagency stakeholders followed disparate, insufficient victim identification procedures, which did not incorporate all forms of trafficking, especially child sex trafficking and labor trafficking of migrant workers. Observers further reported police and immigration officials lacked awareness of trafficking indicators especially in cases involving foreign nationals, which prevented foreign trafficking victims from receiving appropriate protection. Due to the limited scope of laws prohibiting commercial sex, widespread exploitation of children and adults took place within a legalized but largely unregulated range of “delivery health service” and commercial sex acts in urban entertainment centers. Because of the government’s insufficient victim screening and identification procedures, coupled with authorities’ misunderstanding of sex and labor trafficking and child sex trafficking, the government continued to arrest, detain, or deport unidentified victims among vulnerable groups for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as immigration violations.
In 2021, 7,167 TITP participants disappeared from their jobs, some of whom likely fled because of exploitative or abusive conditions and were unidentified trafficking victims. Authorities continued to arrest and deport TITP participants who escaped labor trafficking and other abusive conditions in their contracted agencies; some labor contracts featured illegal automatic repatriation clauses for interns who became pregnant or contracted illnesses while working in Japan. During the reporting period, some TITP participants lost their jobs because of pandemic-related business closures, which caused them to find a new employer to pay off their outstanding debts to the sending organization; however, authorities arrested some TITP participants for illegally changing jobs without screening them for trafficking. The government reported it did not forcibly deport any TITP participants in 2021. Unlike in the previous reporting period, the MOJ reported immigration authorities conducted 12,865 screening interviews of TITP participants departing Japan prior to the end of their contracts, yet it did not identify any trafficking victims among them. Furthermore, the government did not have a procedure for screening foreign nationals—including TITP participants—in immigration detention for possible trafficking indicators. In 2021, observers reported authorities arrested 14 trafficking victims for immigration violations and deported some of them without screening them for trafficking indicators.
Authorities did not identify children as victims of sex trafficking unless a third party mediated the commercial sex acts, preventing hundreds of children from formal designation. The government also reported it did not treat cases of children in commercial sex as child sex trafficking cases because—contrary to definitional standards under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol—it required the perpetrator to exercise “control over the victim.” Some provincial law enforcement officials noted in previous reporting periods that Japan’s unusually low age of consent, 13, further complicated efforts to formally identify children exploited in commercial sex as trafficking victims. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims among the 408 children involved in the 627 cases of “child prostitution”—a form of sex trafficking—reported by the police in 2021. Therefore—as in the previous reporting period—the government did not provide essential victim protection services to any of the children involved in the hundreds of incidents of child sexual and commercial sexual exploitation during the reporting period, nor did it refer them to NGOs for assistance. Police continued to treat some potential child sex trafficking victims, including LGBTQI+ children, as delinquents and counseled them on their behavior instead of screening them for trafficking, investigating their cases, or referring them to specialized services.
As in prior years, the government failed to provide overall adequate protection services, such as trafficking-specific shelters, psycho-social care, and legal aid, to victims of all forms of trafficking including Japanese and foreign victims. The government reported police referred four sex trafficking victims and 11 labor trafficking victims to Women’s Consultation Offices (WCO) shelters or child guidance centers for services; none of these referrals were men. This compared with eight trafficking victims who received assistance at WCO shelters in 2020, but the government did not previously report how many victims it referred to Child Guidance Centers. An international organization also reported police referred 11 trafficking victims, who it identified during raids of commercial sex establishments, to the organization for protection services. The government continued to contribute funding for WCOs and child guidance centers, both of which could provide shelter for trafficking victims alongside victims of domestic violence and other crimes. WCO shelters provided food and other basic needs, psychological care, and coverage of medical expenses, and shelter residents were free to leave the facilities. However, some NGOs continued to allege the physical conditions and services in these facilities were poor, overly restrictive, and insufficient to provide the specialized care required for trafficking victims. Government-run protection options focused on victims of other crimes, and the government did not equip relevant staff to provide the specific services required to accommodate victims of all forms of trafficking. The availability and quality of government- run services that could be provided to victims varied widely according to prefecture-level officials’ ad-hoc experience with trafficking cases. The government continued to operate “one-stop assistance centers” in each prefecture for victims of sexual abuse, including some forms of sex trafficking, but—as in the previous reporting period—the government did not report if any trafficking victims received services at these centers in 2021. Unlike the previous reporting period, the government did not report how much funding it allocated for sheltering trafficking victims; in 2020, the government allocated more than 3.5 million yen (approximately $30,420) for sheltering trafficking victims in fiscal year 2020. Civil society providers reported that if a trafficking victim sought assistance from a provider, it could not assist a victim until the government formally identified the victim as such, which significantly delayed essential services given to victims.
Foreign trafficking victims had limited or no access to other government- provided social services from which legal resident victims could benefit. In 2021, the immigration services agency (ISA) allowed 11 foreign trafficking victims to remain in Japan, but it did not report if it provided or referred these victims to essential care. In comparison, in 2020, the ISA allowed eight victims to remain in Japan. The government, however, did not uniformly allow foreign trafficking victims to work in Japan. NGOs also highlighted a lack of government-provided language interpretation services as a particular challenge to the protection of foreign victims. The government relied on and expected foreign embassies to provide protection services to their nationals whom traffickers exploited in Japan. Temporary, long-term, and permanent residence benefits were reportedly available to foreign victims who feared the repercussions of returning to their countries of origin, but the government did not report how many—if any—victims received these benefits.
Victims had the right to file civil suits to seek compensation from traffickers, but—like the previous reporting period—the government did not report cases in which victims did so. Moreover, the owners of abusive supervising organizations and subsidiary businesses employing TITP participants frequently filed for bankruptcy or falsified administrative changes to shield themselves from civil or criminal liability, enabling labor trafficking to continue throughout the program with impunity. Some employers pressured TITP participants to leave their labor unions to reduce their chances of seeking recompense for labor abuses committed against them. Receipt of compensation awards was therefore nearly impossible in practice. For the fourth consecutive year, authorities did not report any instances of court-ordered restitution for victims. In previous years, civil society organizations reported some victims of coerced pornography chose not to participate in court proceedings against their traffickers due to fear that doing so would create stigma- based challenges to their reintegration.