NEW YORK – Although Japan has made strides through new legislation in recent years to protect foreign nationals from being trafficked into its territory, more needs to be done to increase the number of those actually prosecuted for such crimes, a U.N. official said in a recent interview.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, said Japan had arrested dozens and convicted 24 traffickers between 2005 and 2007 since introducing legislation that makes buying or selling humans an offense in 2005.
Of those convicted, five were sentenced to less than two years in prison, 12 for two to three years and the remaining seven for more than three years, Costa said. He was referring to data in the “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons,” the first assessment by the United Nations of the global human-trafficking situation, released Thursday.
“Japan is a country of more than 127 million and from 2005 to 2007, 24 people were convicted of trafficking. This is nothing,” he said, calling on all countries to act more to punish criminals.
UNODC compiled the 292-page human-trafficking report based on data provided by 155 countries and territories to highlight the extent of the problem that exists around the globe. Countries including China, North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia did not provide data.
According to the report, more than 21,400 victims were identified in 111 countries in 2006. Although the number of trafficked individuals is difficult to track, Costa told reporters Thursday that some 2 million are estimated to have been trafficked in 2005.
The report indicated that sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of trafficking, followed by forced labor.
On human-trafficking into Japan, the report said people from the Philippines accounted for 70 of the total victims identified by the National Police Agency during 2005-2006, followed by 58 from Indonesia and 24 from Thailand. Much smaller numbers of people were from Taiwan, China and Eastern Europe.
Costa said this was a “significant” improvement from the days when entertainment visas were effective in Japan. Since the visas were restricted four years ago, the number of women brought into Japan to service men has dropped to “a fraction,” he said.
Within the Pacific subregion, the report said that in Japan, Mongolia, Indonesia and Myanmar, adult women, as opposed to minors, are more commonly identified as victims.
But the trafficking of minors is a “more significant issue” in other countries, including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and the Philippines.
The report said about 20 percent of the victims were children.
Trafficking in men and boys was also reported in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Mongolia.
“Victims were predominantly trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation throughout the region,” the report said.
“In the case of Asia, we have noted again that human-trafficking is a drama of extraordinary proportion. It is to some extent even an epidemic,” Costa said.
Also of concern to Costa were the less visible cases of young people slaving away in sweatshops, including incidents of forced labor that had been imposed on drug addicts as a form of rehabilitation. They are not compensated for their work. This trend is an alarming one that will be addressed at a ministerial meeting in Vienna next month, he said.
Drug addicts in Southeast Asia are often forced to perform labor-intensive work such as stitching, processing leather or working with plastics or rubbers used by industrial companies that sell their products worldwide.
“I would urge all importing countries to impose a code of conduct on whatever businesses they are involved in,” he said.
Costa presented the report on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, to highlight the importance of preventing the perpetuation of slavery.
In another development, award-winning actress and human rights activist Mira Sorvino became the latest goodwill ambassador at a high-level meeting held at U.N. headquarters to fight human-trafficking.