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. Authorities relied on formal manuals instituted by an Inter-Ministerial Liaison Committee in 2010 encouraging government bodies to develop broad protection measures for trafficking victims. NPA officials also reported consulting an IOM-developed handbook to identify and refer victims to available protective services. In practice, interagency stakeholders followed disparate, often insufficient victim identification procedures—especially among child sex trafficking victims and migrant workers. Due to the limited scope of laws prohibiting commercial sex, widespread victimization of minors and adults took place within a legalized but largely unregulated range of “delivery health service” sex acts in urban entertainment centers.
Authorities reported identifying 47 trafficking victims, including 28 adults and 19 children, compared with 25 total in 2018, 46 in 2017, and 50 in 2016. The government identified 12 women and girls forced to work as “hostesses,” some of whom may have also been subjected to sex trafficking (three in 2018), and 35 female sex trafficking victims (20 in 2018; 31 in 2017; 37 in 2016), including at least five children. The government has never identified a forced labor victim within the TITP since its inception, nor during the tenure of its predecessor organization founded in 1993, despite substantial evidence of trafficking indicators. 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. The government did not report national statistics on forcible TITP deportations, and, unlike in the previous year, it did not provide data on the number of screening interviews of TITP participants departing Japan prior to the end of their contracts, nor on the number of successful interventions in unjust employer-initiated deportations. Civil society groups noted the government had no procedure for screening foreign nationals in immigration detention for possible trafficking indicators (at least nine attempted forcible deportations among 8,000 interviewees in 2018, with five successful interventions and two employee-reinstatements).
Authorities stated they continued to identify and provide unspecified protection services to “children in prostitution”—a form of sex trafficking—but did not report relevant data, unlike in previous years (544 children identified in 2018; 654 in 2017; 518 in 2016). However, as in previous years, the government consistently failed to identify designate most children identified in commercial sexual exploitation as trafficking victims (none in 2018; six in 2017; 10 in 2016). Authorities continued to separate these statistics based on persistent definitional discrepancies that NGOs claimed affected service provision and proper law enforcement action. Contrary to definitional standards under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, authorities did not consider children to be victims of sex trafficking unless the sex acts were mediated by a third party, likely preventing hundreds of children from formal designation. Some provincial law enforcement officials noted that Japan’s unusually low age of consent, 13, further complicated efforts to formally identify children exploited in commercial sex as trafficking victims. Police continued to treat some potential child sex trafficking victims as delinquents—particularly LGBTI children—and counseled them on their behavior instead of screening them for victim status, investigating their cases, or referring them to specialized services. Although there were no specific reports in 2019, in previous years, authorities arrested some child victims in connection with their trafficking situations; service provision NGOs believed enduring definitional discrepancies continued to leave child victims at risk of penalization.
The government reportedly increased funding for “one-stop assistance centers” previously established in each prefecture for victims of sexual abuse, including some forms of sex trafficking; these centers were intended to improve coordination between municipal governments and service providers, but the government did not provide data related to their use. As in prior years, the government did not fund trafficking-specific shelters, but it 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, psychological care, and coverage of medical expenses to victims, who were free to leave the facilities if accompanied by WCO personnel. However, some NGOs alleged 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 assisting 11 victims in WCO shelters among those identified in 2019, a decrease from 16 in 2018 and 16 in 2017. An unknown number of additional victims received assistance in NGO shelters, where they could access government-subsidized medical care. The government reported allocating more than 3.5 million yen ($32,250) for sheltering trafficking victims, compared with 3.4 million yen ($31,330) in 2018, and 3.5 million yen ($32,250) for male victims alone in 2017. The availability and quality of victim services varied according to prefecture-level officials’ relative experience with trafficking cases.
During the reporting period, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) provided funding via the Tokyo Prefectural Government to an NGO to optimize their online presence for youth sex trafficking victims searching for shelter and protection services, doubling the NGO’s online contact with victims seeking care. MHLW maintained a general counseling hotline for foreign workers in multiple languages, but it was not trafficking-specific; it reported fielding 1,950 calls from TITP participants, but it was unclear how many featured trafficking allegations (2,197 calls in 2018). The immigration bureau operated a similar hotline but did not identify any victims through its use (unreported in 2018; two in 2017). NPA also ran a general Japanese language hotline through a private entity, but it did not report the number of calls received or identify any potential trafficking cases through the use thereof (295 potential cases among more than 14,500 calls in 2018; 433 cases among over 19,000 in 2017). The government continued to fund a program through an international organization to provide counseling, temporary refuge, social reintegration, and repatriation services to trafficking victims; however, it significantly reduced the relevant budgetary allocation during the reporting period. Through this program, 14 foreign victims received repatriation assistance (five in 2018; seven in 2017; 23 in 2016). Despite the existence of these services, 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. NGOs highlighted a lack of language interpretation services as a particular challenge to the protection of foreign victims.
Although the law ostensibly protected victims from denial of entry into or deportation from Japan, inadequate screening of vulnerable groups reportedly led to the arrest and deportation of some victims due to immigration violations or other unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Temporary, long-term, and permanent residence benefits were available to foreign victims who feared the repercussions of returning to their countries of origin. Unlike in prior years, the government did not disaggregate information on conferral of residential benefits by type; authorities reported granting five foreign trafficking victims “special permission to remain in Japan” after overstaying their visas, as well as issuing unspecified changes in residency to seven additional trafficking victims (one long-term and eight short-term visas in 2018; two and 16, respectively, in 2017). Victims had the right to file civil suits to seek compensation from their traffickers; some foreign workers, including potentially unidentified victims, and sex trafficking victims filed civil suits for non-payment of wages in 2018. However, 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. Authorities did not report any instances of court-ordered restitution for victims during the calendar year (unreported in 2018). 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 and rehabilitation.