Japan’s Domestic Slave Trade

This afternoon, I visited humantrafficking.org and took a look at the section on the nation I live in – Japan. It gives a summary of the major points dealing with human trafficking in the country, though much of the information appears to be a few years old. So, I looked at their sources to see if I could find some more up-to-date information

I found the Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 from the US State Department, which covers the whole World. Japan bore the shame of being on the watch list in 2004 (the only developed country on the list), but it’s currently an ordinary Tier 2 country, meaning that the government does not meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards. It’s also supposed to mean that the country is making significant efforts to comply with these standards, yet the report states that “a growing and significant number of Japanese women and girls are victims of sex trafficking in the country” and that “the Japanese government demonstrated diminished anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period.”

According to the Polaris Project, there are “many children who are forced to repay exorbitant debts by selling their bodies.” A few years ago, someone told me about the prices paid for sex with children in Tokyo. If I remember correctly, a 12 year old was 80,000 yen (around $800). I hadn’t considered that debt would be a tool used to manipulate these children; a sinister new dimension. Certainly, I think everyone knows that teenage girls undertake ‘compensation dating’ to pay for things like designer handbags, but I had assumed they were trying to earn money rather than pay off a debt they were tricked into.

On January 11, 2004 (I checked the date on my old e-mails), a pimp followed me along the street in Shinjuku one night after I’d been to a concert. He was pestering me to go with him and, when I refused, he said that I could have sex with a Japanese woman instead of one of the foreigners. I kept walking away, so he tried to entice my by promising a 15 year old. Whether there really was a 15 year old or not is one thing, but I was struck by the fact that he thought someone would find that more appealing.

One of the shelters mentioned on humantrafficking.org was the HELP Asian Women’s Shelter. Their services are provided to around 200 women per year, almost half of whom are Japanese. I don’t know what percentage are victims of human trafficking, though I would speculate that there’s a strong likelihood that at least the foreign women are. I wonder if they’re one of the two shelters the U.S. State Department were able to find back in 2004.

There’s a lot more to learn, but I’d like to begin by finding out more about the services being provided to victims and the obstacles to scaling up their endeavours.

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