Japan is not only a transit point for people involved in the sex and labor trafficking industry, but it is also a source of victims for more then 10 years, activists say. The country needs to improve the legislation and increase awareness of what the activists call a modern form of slavery.
“Behind the lack of an effective law is the fact that nobody really knows this kind of thing goes on in Japan. Many people are startled to find out that this crime exists here at all,” said Shihoko Fujiwara, founder and head of the Japan office of Polaris Project, which supports victims of sexual trafficking and will be operating under the new name “Lighthouse: Centre for Human Trafficking Victims” from January 1.
Many local girls aged 13 or 14 are becoming victims, as the transport costs for the traffickers are lower this way, Fujiwara says. Abused girls, single mothers and women who struggle financially, especially after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, are among the easy targets, she added according to the international press.
While many developed nations such as the U.S., Canada and France rank in Tier 1, Japan remains on the same level as countries such as Nepal, Senegal and Zambia. It also failed so far to ratify the U.N. protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, a situation that is not common in the developed countries.
The number of human trafficking victims recognized by the National Police Agency in 2012 was of only 27, which experts say reflects the tip of the iceberg.
“Many people still think that prostitutes choose their line of work, but I want more people to know that there are also victims who are unable to escape from the horrible situations they find themselves in,” said Fujiwara.