Human trafficking woes fail to gain recognition

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OSAKA — While the government is pursuing legislation to counter human trafficking, there is still little recognition or understanding by most people of the severity of the problem, a U.S. government official said Wednesday.

Speaking at an Osaka symposium on human trafficking, Ann Kambara, counselor for labor affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and an expert on human trafficking issues, said recognition of the problem is growing in other parts of Asia, but many Japanese officials still misunderstand the nature of the crime.

“Human trafficking is not a labor problem or an immigration problem,” she said.

“It’s a human rights problem.”

In June, the U.S. State Department released a report criticizing Japan for failing to fully comply with the minimum standards set by the United Nations and agreed to by Japan in 2002 for the elimination of trafficking.

The report specifically calls on Japan to increase its number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions, and to go after Japanese mobsters involved in the trade.

The U.S. report shocked Japan, and officials have since announced a number of measures to combat human trafficking, including tighter controls on immigration.

Next month, the Justice Ministry will begin discussing an antitrafficking bill that could be submitted to the Diet as early as the spring.

While no official figures exist, activists in Japan have estimated the number of women trafficked to Japan to be anywhere from 40,000 to 200,000 annually.

Kambara said that the U.S. has had tougher antitrafficking laws in place since 1998 — laws that offer various forms of protection to those who seek help and agree to testify against pimps and brokers involved in human trafficking.

These include being allowed to remain in the United States on a special visa while their case is pending.

Yukiko Oishi, a Kobe-based volunteer probation officer who operates a telephone hotline for women trafficked to Japan, also spoke at the symposium.

She noted that while there is some discussion among nongovernmental organizations, most people are unaware of the extent of the problem.