The government maintained insufficient protection efforts. The government identified 29 female trafficking victims, a decrease from 47 trafficking victims identified the previous year. The 29 victims, two of whom were foreign nationals, included 20 girls in sex trafficking, seven women in sex trafficking, and two women in forced labor – a decrease from 16 labor trafficking victims identified the previous year. Separately, an NGO identified 15 forced labor victims (10 men and five women), 14 of whom were foreign nationals; and a labor organization identified 55 foreign workers in exploitative situations, which may have included labor trafficking. Additionally, an NGO supporting sex trafficking victims received requests for assistance from 820 victims of sexual violation and/or sexual exploitation (532 female, 89 male, and 199 gender unknown), which likely included additional sex trafficking cases. The lack of adequate standardized guidelines, poor coordination among ministries, and an incomplete, disparate set of sex and labor trafficking statutes among all relevant agencies contributed to the government’s inadequate efforts to identify and protect victims. The government updated a handbook for law enforcement officials that included procedures for handling trafficking cases, but Japan’s guidelines for officials to identify victims – initially drafted in 2010 and never updated – were neither comprehensive nor sufficient, thereby constraining access to care for many victims. Although officials reportedly screened for trafficking among women in commercial sex and TITP foreign workers, the government did not identify any trafficking victims among TITP participants and continued to only identify a fraction of “children in prostitution” as sex trafficking victims. 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 and even in cases with numerous and persistent indicators. 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 and authorities’ misunderstanding of sex and labor trafficking, the government likely continued to arrest, detain, or deport victims solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, including immigration violations.
In 2022, 9,006 TITP participants disappeared from their jobs, some of whom fled exploitative or abusive conditions; and authorities did not identify any as trafficking victims. This was a large increase from 7,167 individuals in 2021. Authorities continued to subject TITP participants who escaped abusive employers or abusive conditions to deportation; some labor contracts featured illegal automatic repatriation clauses for interns who became pregnant or contracted illnesses while working in Japan. Immigration authorities conducted 13,111 screening interviews of TITP participants departing Japan prior to the end of their contracts, an increase from 12,865 screenings in the previous year. MOJ did not report whether immigration officials identified any trafficking victims; five TITP participants reported the departure was forced.
Authorities did not identify children as victims of sex trafficking unless a third party facilitated the commercial sex acts, preventing hundreds of children from essential victim protection services and judicial recourse. The government also reported it did not treat all 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. In March 2023, the government submitted to the parliament a bill that would raise the age of consent to 16. Civil society groups maintain that 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 survivor-centered shelters, psycho-social care, and legal aid, to victims of all forms of trafficking. Authorities referred to care only nine of the 29 trafficking victims identified, eight of whom were children. This was a decrease from referring 15 labor and sex trafficking victims to Women’s Consultation Offices (WCO) shelters or child guidance centers for services in the previous year. The government did not refer any male victims to care because it did not identify any. An NGO separately provided services to 15 potential labor trafficking victims. The availability and quality of government-run services for victims varied widely according to prefecture. The government contributed funding for WCOs and child guidance centers, which could provide shelter for female and child trafficking victims alongside victims of other crimes, and “one-stop assistance centers,” which could assist victims of sexual abuse, including some forms of sex trafficking. Each prefecture had at least one WCO, child guidance center, and one-stop support center. WCO shelters provided food and other basic needs, psychological care, and coverage of medical expenses; and shelter residents could leave the facilities freely. Some NGOs continued to allege the physical conditions and services in these facilities were poor and overly restrictive. WCOs in less resourced prefectures required women and children seeking shelter to quit their jobs or schooling, reportedly for the shelters’ secrecy. Additionally, civil society providers reported that if a trafficking victim sought assistance, government providers could not assist until the government formally identified the victim, which delayed services. WCOs could not accommodate all LGBTQI+ individuals; no government shelter could accommodate male trafficking victims. The government stated it could provide male trafficking victims with other temporary accommodations but did not report doing so.
Foreign trafficking victims had limited or no access to other government-provided social services from which legal resident victims could benefit. The government provided two female trafficking victims with residency permits, a decrease from 11 in 2021. 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 whether any victims received these benefits. The government continued to fund an international organization that provided return and reintegration assistance to foreign trafficking victims identified in Japan.
Victims could file civil suits to seek compensation from traffickers, but – as in previous years – the government did not report whether any did so. However, in response to a civil suit filed by seven victims in 2017, a court awarded partial damages for unpaid wages; the judge denied the victims’ request for additional damages. Some employers pressured TITP participants to leave their labor unions to reduce their chances of seeking recompense for labor abuses committed against them.