2021 Trafficking in Persons Report: Japan
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
In this section /
JAPAN: Tier 2
JAPAN: Tier 2
The Government of Japan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Japan remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating, prosecuting, and convicting some traffickers; identifying some trafficking victims; and continuing to implement public awareness campaigns. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities continued to prosecute and convict traffickers under laws carrying lesser penalties and delivering suspended sentences in lieu of incarceration in nearly all cases, while some traffickers received only fines. These sentences for convicted traffickers were not sufficiently stringent to deter the crime. The failure to sentence the large majority of traffickers to terms of imprisonment significantly weakened deterrence, undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, and did not adequately address the nature of the crime. Government officials, including law enforcement, did not systematically address child sex trafficking crimes, allowing traffickers to operate with impunity. Foreign-based and domestic traffickers continued to abuse the government-operated Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) to exploit foreign workers. Despite persistent reports of forced labor among labor migrants working in Japan under its auspices, authorities again did not proactively identify a single trafficking case or victim in the TITP. Within TITP, the government’s memoranda of cooperation with sending countries have been ineffective in preventing foreign-based labor recruitment agencies from charging excessive fees, a key driver of debt-based coercion among TITP participants, and the government did not hold recruiters and employers accountable for abusive labor practices and forced labor crimes. Interagency stakeholders continued to rely on disparate, ineffective identification and referral procedures, which did not cover all forms of trafficking, thereby preventing authorities from properly screening vulnerable populations for trafficking and protecting victims of all forms of trafficking. Law enforcement bodies continued to identify hundreds of children exploited in the commercial sex industry without formally designating them as victims of trafficking in most cases, hindering their access to protection services and judicial recourse. In addition to insufficient victim identification practices, the government did not provide specific services dedicated to victims of all forms of trafficking. Continued lack of political will to address all forms of trafficking crimes and identify and protect trafficking victims, especially victims of forced labor and child and adult sex trafficking, contributed to the government’s overall lack of progress.
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 increase the penalties for trafficking crimes to include a maximum of no less than four years’ imprisonment. • Develop, systematize, and implement standard interagency procedures for the identification of, and referral to protective services for, victims of forced labor among migrant workers, including those in Japan under the auspices of the TITP and other visa-conferring statuses, and among those in immigration detention. • Enhance victim screening to ensure victims—including children exploited in commercial sex without third party facilitation, migrant workers under the TITP, and migrant workers entering Japan under the new regimes, including the Specified Skilled Worker Visa—are properly identified and referred to services, and not detained or forcibly deported for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. • Increase efforts to identify male victims of sex trafficking and forced labor. • 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. • Increase implementation of the TITP reform law’s oversight and enforcement measures, including by training Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT) personnel and immigration officials on victim identification, improving OTIT coordination with NGOs, reviewing all contracts prior to approval of TITP work plans, increasing employer inspections, and terminating contracts with foreign recruitment agencies charging excessive worker-paid commissions or fees. • Establish formal channels allowing all foreign workers to change employment and industries if desired. • Enact legislation banning employers from retaining all foreign workers’ passports or other personal documents. • Reduce migrant workers’ vulnerability to debt-based coercion by amending relevant policies to eliminate the imposition of all worker-paid recruitment and service fees. • Increase enforcement of bans on “punishment” agreements, passport withholding, and other practices by organizations and employers that contribute to forced labor. • Aggressively investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish Japanese citizens who engage in child sex tourism overseas.
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.
The government maintained insufficient efforts to protect victims, including by consistently failing to formally identify victims of trafficking within the TITP and among children in commercial sexual exploitation. 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. Several ministries continued to operate hotlines that could identify potential trafficking cases, including MHLW, the immigration bureau, and NPA, but none of these hotlines identified any victims during the reporting period. Due to the limited scope of laws prohibiting commercial sex, widespread victimization of children and adults took place within a legalized but largely unregulated range of “delivery health service” commercial sex acts in urban entertainment centers.
In 2020, authorities identified 25 sex trafficking victims and 13 labor trafficking victims; this included seven Filipina victims who were forced to work as “hostesses” at bars and whom the government identified as victims of labor trafficking. This represented a decrease compared with 47 total trafficking victims identified in 2019, which included 12 women and girls forced to work as “hostesses.” The government has never identified a forced labor victim within the TITP since its inception in 2017 nor during the tenure of its predecessor organization founded in 1993, despite substantial evidence of trafficking indicators. The government reported 8,000 TITP participants disappeared from their jobs in 2020, some of whom likely fled because of exploitative or abusive conditions and were likely unidentified trafficking victims. Authorities continued to arrest and deport TITP participants who escaped forced labor 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 TITIP participants for illegally changing jobs without screening them for trafficking. Although the law ostensibly protected victims from deportation from Japan, authorities’ inadequate screening of vulnerable groups led to the arrest and detention of some victims due to immigration violations or other unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. The government did not report national statistics on forcible TITP deportations in 2020, and—like in the previous year—it did not provide data on the number of screening interviews immigration authorities conducted of TITP participants departing Japan prior to the end of their contracts nor on the number of successful interventions in unjust employer-initiated deportations. Furthermore, civil society groups noted the government did not have a procedure for screening foreign nationals—including TITP participants—in immigration detention for possible trafficking indicators.
Contrary to definitional standards under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, 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 the previous reporting period 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 identified only 18 trafficking victims among the 379 children involved in the more than 600 cases of “child prostitution”—a form of sex trafficking—reported by the police in 2020. The government reported approximately 200 incidents of male victims of child pornography and “child prostitution” yet failed to identify any male child sex trafficking victims. Therefore, 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.
The government allocated more than 3.5 million yen (approximately $33,950) for sheltering trafficking victims in fiscal year 2020, the same amount allocated in fiscal year 2019. Despite this funding—as in prior years—the government failed to provide adequate protection services, such as trafficking-specific shelters, psycho-social care, and legal aid, to trafficking victims including Japanese and foreign trafficking victims. Government-run protection options focused on victims of other crimes, and relevant staff were not equipped 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 the government did not report if any trafficking victims received services at these centers during the reporting period. The government also continued to fund Women’s Consultation Offices (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—including COVID-19 preventive face masks and disinfectant—psychological care, and coverage of medical expenses to victims, who were free to leave the facilities if accompanied by WCO personnel. 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. Authorities reported eight trafficking victims received assistance in WCO shelters in 2020, a gradual decrease from 11 in 2019 and 16 in 2018. The government reported 18 victims “self-identified” to authorities during the reporting period, but it did not report providing or referring these victims to protection services. Civil service 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. In addition, 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. For example, while Immigration Services Agency granted resident status to one foreign trafficking victim and “special permission to remain in Japan” to seven foreign victims in 2020, it did not report if it provided or referred these victims to essential care. The government relied on and expected foreign embassies to provide protection services to their nationals who were exploited in Japan. NGOs also highlighted a lack of government-provided language interpretation services as a particular challenge to the protection of foreign victims. Temporary, long-term, and permanent residence benefits were 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 during the reporting period. The government continued to fund a program through an international organization to provide counseling, temporary refuge, social reintegration, and repatriation services to trafficking victims; the government’s budget for this program was 11,000,000 yen ($106,715), a decrease from 15,000,000 yen ($145,520) in the previous reporting period. Through this program, five foreign victims received repatriation assistance (14 in 2019; five in 2018; seven in 2017).
Victims had the right to file civil suits to seek compensation from their traffickers, but the government did not report cases in which victims did so during the reporting period. Moreover, the owners of abusive supervising organizations and subsidiary businesses employing TITP participants frequently filed for bankruptcy or falsified administrative changes in order to shield themselves from civil or criminal liability, enabling forced labor 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 third consecutive year, authorities did not report any instances of court-ordered restitution for victims during the reporting period. 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.
The government maintained insufficient efforts to prevent trafficking, including by continuing to demonstrate a lack of political will to adequately do so among highly vulnerable migrant worker populations. Although the government maintained a national-level interagency coordinating body, the lack of centralized leadership contributed to ineffective coordination among relevant ministries to combat trafficking. The government continued to base its anti-trafficking efforts on an outdated 2014 national anti-trafficking action plan (NAP). In accordance with the NAP, the government met twice in 2020 with civil society organizations to review the government’s measures to combat trafficking, but it did not report if any tangible results came from these meetings. It produced its sixth annual report on government actions to combat trafficking and tracked measures against the stated goals of its 2014 NAP. Authorities continued to raise awareness on trafficking by disseminating information online—including on the NPA’s public website—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. In response to an increase in Vietnamese workers in Japan, during the reporting period, NPA included information in Vietnamese in its anti-trafficking leaflets. NPA also produced an online anti-trafficking presentation for the airline industry that aired in December 2020. The NPA—in cooperation with a foreign government and international organizations—distributed posters in airports to raise awareness about sexual exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation of children and the production of child pornography. The government did not make significant efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, and many of its awareness-raising content on the “JK” business was targeted toward victims, rather than the demand source. The government had extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute Japanese nationals who engaged in child sexual exploitation abroad, but—unlike in the previous reporting period—it did not report investigating or prosecuting any cases of child sex tourism under this jurisdiction in 2020.
The government continued to implement the 2016 Act on Proper Technical Intern Training and Protection of Technical Intern Trainees (TITP reform law). The TITP reform law mandated the MHLW approve work plans outlining living conditions, working hours, and other factors developed jointly by incoming TITP participants and their employers; from November 2020 through mid-January 2021, the government allowed the entry of 55,754 TITP participants. However, authorities did not fully implement oversight procedures to ensure unity among sending and receiving organizations’ contracts nor among these contracts and the participants’ work plans, resulting in discrepant language that left many participants vulnerable to labor abuses, including forced labor. According to the government’s provisional data, in 2020, OTIT reported conducting on-site inspections of 15,318 TITP implementing organizations and 2,983 supervising organizations. Authorities did not report revoking any MHLW-approved work plans for labor violations in 2019, compared with eight revocations in 2018; some observers expressed these work plans lacked enforceability due to the high number of TITP employers and participants relative to the small number of inspectors. In February 2021, MHLW issued instructions to each regional labor standards inspection office to report potential trafficking cases to MHLW for further review; as of the end of the reporting period, it did not report if any offices reported such cases. Civil society groups continued to express concern the OTIT was too understaffed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse, including forced labor, within such a large program—particularly as the number of participants continued to grow. Some participants reported the OTIT and the MHLW were unresponsive to their request for mediation when their employers suddenly changed or terminated their contracts. Immigration officials issued orientation pamphlets with hotlines and contact information to all incoming TITP participants.
The government maintained memoranda of cooperation (MOC) pertaining to the TITP with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam as sending countries of TITP participants. MOCs remained the Japanese government’s primary tool to regulate recruitment practices, but they remained largely ineffective because the government failed to hold the governments of the sending countries accountable for abusive labor practices and forced labor crimes by recruiters and sending organizations. The MOCs affirmed the government would accept TITP trainees only from state-approved organizations that would not charge participants “excessive fees” known to place workers in high debt. However, some sending organizations in these countries circumvented the fee restrictions and secured their respective governments’ approval by charging high “commissions” in lieu of fees; trainees from these countries therefore remained at risk for debt bondage once in Japan. This was especially true for Vietnamese participants, who constituted the highest proportion of TITP trainees. Some Japanese TITP employers forced participants to remit portions of their salaries into mandatory savings accounts as a means to prevent their abscondment and retain their labor. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ), MOFA, and MHLW could request that sending countries investigate allegations of recruitment fee violations, but the decision to penalize or ban sending organizations for the practice was at the discretion of sending country authorities. MOJ, MOFA, and MHLW reported to sending countries misconduct by 79 sending organizations for investigation during the reporting period.
The government continued to implement its “Special Skilled Worker” visa program—established in 2018—that allowed 15,663 foreign workers to enter Japan in 2020 and fill positions in construction, shipbuilding, nursing care, and 10 other sectors with known labor shortages over a five-year period. Although there were no reported cases of forced labor within this system in 2020, observers continued to express concern that it would engender the same vulnerabilities to labor abuses, including forced labor, as those inherent to the TITP and that the government’s oversight measures were similarly lacking. The program reportedly permitted qualifying individuals already participating in the TITP to switch their visas to the newly created categories, allowing them to extend their stay in Japan and change jobs within the same sector. Japanese law also enabled for-profit employment agencies and individuals to become “registered support organizations”—with no licensing requirements—to liaise between labor recruitment brokerages and employers for a fee. Observers reported these service fees could create additional risks for debt-based coercion among migrant workers entering under the auspices of the regime. Under this program, the government maintained MOCs with 13 governments that provided a framework for information-sharing to eliminate malicious brokers and recruitment agencies.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers subject Japanese and foreign men and women to forced labor and sex trafficking, and they subject Japanese children to sex trafficking. Traffickers also transport victims from elsewhere in the region through Japan before exploiting them in onward destinations, including East Asia and North America. Traffickers subject male and female migrant workers, mainly from Asia, to conditions of forced labor, including at companies participating in Japanese government-run programs, such as TITP. The government identified five Japanese male victims in 2020. In one of the instances, traffickers forced a male victim to work at a restaurant at a low wage for long hours after physically assaulting the victim on a daily basis. Japan’s fast-growing foreign student population is also at risk for trafficking in the unskilled labor sector due to abusive and often deceptive work-study contract provisions. Men, women, and children from Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Latin America, and Africa travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage and are subjected to sex trafficking. Traffickers use fraudulent marriages between foreign women and Japanese men to facilitate the entry of women into Japan for sex trafficking in bars, clubs, brothels, and massage parlors. Traffickers keep victims in forced labor or forced commercial sex using debt-based coercion, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, confiscation of passports and other documents, and other psychologically coercive methods. Employers require many migrant workers to pay fees for living expenses, medical care, and other necessities, leaving them vulnerable to debt-based coercion. Brothel operators sometimes arbitrarily impose “fines” on victims for alleged misbehavior, thereby extending their indebtedness as a coercive measure.
Traffickers also subject Japanese citizens and foreign nationals—particularly runaway teenage girls and boys—to sex trafficking. Enjo kosai or “compensated dating” services and variants of the “JK” business, often with ties to organized crime, continue to facilitate the sex trafficking of Japanese boys and girls; underage youth from China, South Korea, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam are also reportedly exploited in these establishments. The pandemic caused a surge in unemployment and domestic violence, which increased the risk of some Japanese women and girls—especially runaway children—to enter into “compensated dating;” NGOs reported that traffickers increasingly use social media sites to contact women and girls for this purpose. “JK” bar owners may subject some underage boys and girls, including LGBTQI+ youth, to forced labor as hostesses and club promoters. Highly organized commercial sex networks target vulnerable Japanese women and girls—in many instances those 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 in commercial sex establishments, small musical performance venues, retail spaces, and reflexology centers, often through debt-based coercion. Some groups posing as model and actor placement agencies use fraudulent recruitment techniques to coerce Japanese men, women, boys, and 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. Some transgender youth seek employment in unregulated urban entertainment districts as a means of financing their gender-affirming care and are subsequently exploited in commercial sex and possibly forced labor. 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 and sex trafficking in the nightlife industry. Japanese men remain a source of demand for child sex tourism in other countries in Asia.
Cases of forced labor continue 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 Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam pay sending organizations in their home countries thousands of dollars in excessive worker-paid fees, deposits, or vague “commissions”—despite bilateral agreements between sending countries and Japan aimed at curbing the practice—to secure jobs in fishing, food processing, shellfish cultivation, ship building, construction, textile production, and manufacturing of electronic components, automobiles, and other large machinery. TITP employers place many participants in jobs that do not teach or develop technical skills, contrary to the program’s stated intent; others place participants in jobs that do not match the duties they agreed upon beforehand. Some of these workers experience restricted freedom of movement and communication, confiscation of passports and other personal and legal documentation, threats of deportation or harm to their families, physical violence, poor living conditions, wage garnishing, and other conditions indicative 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. Participants who leave their contracted TITP jobs fall out of immigration status, after which some are reportedly subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Some foreign workers within the Specified Skilled Worker visa program—including former TITP participants—may be at risk for trafficking. An NGO noted more than 90 percent of the migrant workers in Japan under the auspices of this visa regime were former TITP interns in vulnerable sectors prior to 2019.