|Sex trade exploitation: Destination Japan
By Suvendrini Kakuchi
- The Japanese government must get serious about
combating the trafficking, exploitation and abuse of
foreign women lured into the sex industry, experts say.
Activists and legal experts arrived at that
conclusion after hearing a litany of horror stories at a
seminar held here by the Asia Foundation and the
International Labor Organization. Migrant workers and
activists disclosed gross human and workers' rights
violations committed by Japan's adult-entertainment
industry, whose value has been estimated at almost US$83
billion a year.
Those attending the seminar
highlighted the lack of an official safety net for
migrant labor in Japan, in effect leaving tens of
thousands of men and women without visas and thus easy
prey for unscrupulous brokers and gangsters.
Despite criminal and labor laws, experts say,
the lack of a comprehensive anti-trafficking law in
Japan has allowed criminals to pay only light fines when
"Japanese criminal law prohibits
trafficking of persons from Japan to another country.
But these provisions do not cover the other way around,"
says Yoko Yoshida, a lawyer with the Young Women's
Christian Association (YWCA) in Kyoto.
they said it is time for Japan, which has been a magnet
for migrants for decades, to institute a proper system
for the inflow of people from other countries. This
means the issuance of legal visas and the provision of
health and mental care for migrant labor. As well,
Japan's current practice of deportation only places the
blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator
responsible for a foreign-worker violation.
Justice Ministry reports that as of January 2002, there
were about 224,067 overstayers in Japan, of whom 105,945
were women. More than 46 percent of these women were
working as bar hostesses, followed by waitresses and
factory workers. By nationality, South Koreans comprised
25 percent of these overstayers, followed by Filipinos
The past few years have seen an
influx of young women from outside Asia - traditionally
the biggest source of migrants - coming from as far away
as Latin America, Eastern Europe and Russia. Many are
employed in red-light districts, as bars - also affected
by the recession - are finding them increasingly cheaper
to employ than Thais and Filipinos.
seminar, which ended on Wednesday, migrant workers
talked about beatings, exorbitant debt bondage of up to
6 million yen ($50,000) that they are forced to pay
back, 24-hour surveillance, no salaries, and having to
service as many as 15 men sexually each day.
"The situation needs urgent attention. New
measures must reflect the reality of the situation,
which is the growing demand for cheap foreign labor in
Japan and the ready supply from Asia," said Kasit
Piromya, Thailand's ambassador to Japan.
Thai Embassy in Tokyo reports that two to three Thai
women seek refuge each week to escape cruel and
degrading working conditions, bondage or forced sexual
Studies on Thai migrant labor presented
here say that there is a highly systematic trafficking
process that recruits both Thai and Japanese agents,
some of them married couples, carried out by
transnational criminal elements operating in various
countries. Local agents supply girls from villages in
poorer areas of Thailand, such as the north and
northeast, luring them with promises of high-income jobs
in snack bars or restaurants in Japan. Once the women,
most of them semi-literate, agree, they are escorted to
Japan through a third country.
women are given forged passports that have tourist
visas. When they arrive in Japan, they are met by
Japanese agents who whisk them away to rural brothels
Piromya says the problem must be
tackled on different fronts. Among the proposals now
being discussed are closer monitoring of Japanese-Thai
couples applying for visas in Thailand, the setting up
of a special desk at Bangkok airport to watch out for
women who may be trafficked, and providing education and
information on the legal implications of migration to
raise awareness among the villages at risk.
Thai ambassador said some have proposed that vocational
training be offered to trafficking victims in Japan as a
way to broaden employment opportunities whether in Japan
itself or after they return to Thailand. Often, Thai and
other female migrant workers who escape are left with no
money after their ordeal and cannot return to their
families back home.
Social counselors also
called for psychological and spiritual support for
trafficking victims to cope with their mental stress
from abuse in Japan.
Kinsey Dinan, a policy
analyst at the National Center for Children in Poverty
and a former researcher for Human Rights Watch, says
Japan can enact laws like those in Germany through which
pimps can be arrested and where trafficking is seen as a
serious criminal offense.
She says immigration
laws in the United States guarantee assistance such as
lawyers and compensation and medical care for victims
while in custody and allows them to stay in the country
during court proceedings.
Said Thai Ambassador
Kasit: "The basic reality is that human trafficking
cannot be tackled piecemeal. It is the responsibility of
all parties involved in the struggle to devote political
will and financial resources support on its behalf."
(Inter Press Service)