National

Japan criticized over poor effort to prevent human trafficking

by Lisa Yuriko Thomas

Kyodo

Japan needs to redouble its efforts to fight human trafficking and assume a leadership role in the international community that matches its economic power, a senior U.S. administration official said in a recent interview.

“I was disappointed,” John Miller, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said of Japan’s response to the issue.

“Japan is a leader, a leading democracy in the world, one of the wealthiest democracies with tremendous resources and I think there was a gap, a huge gap, between the level of the challenge and the resources and efforts that were being devoted to the challenge,” he told Kyodo News.

Miller visited Japan in February as part of a five-nation Asian tour to meet local government officials, nongovernmental organization members, women who were trafficked and others to prepare for an annual report to be released in June on global conditions of human trafficking.

According to the “2003 Trafficking in Persons Report” released by the State Department, between 800,000 and 900,000 people are annually trafficked across international borders, generating between $7 billion and $10 billion for those perpetrating the crime.

Miller said Japan has been providing financial support to help poor countries prevent people from being trafficked into sexual exploitation and forced labor.

But domestic measures taken by the government to combat human trafficking are not sufficient, he said.

“There are very few arrests, prosecutions and convictions of traffickers,” he said.

One of the reasons for the authorities’ inactivity is the lack of an antitrafficking law, but Japan should not use this as an excuse, Miller said.

“I think even without the antitrafficking law, there could be more prosecutions, more arrests and convictions” under other statutes, such as rape or kidnapping, he said.

Miller said that even if a human trafficker is arrested and convicted in Japan, the punishment is “incredibly light.”

As an example, he cited the case of Koichi “Sony” Hagiwara, who was arrested in 2003 on charges of violating labor and immigration laws after serving as a broker for the trafficking of Colombian women. He was nicknamed “Sony” for his preference of using Sony cameras to record the women.

“This is a man who admitted to trafficking hundreds of girls,” Miller said. “He gets 22 months. So the punishment does not seem to be commensurate with the crime.”

Miller said there are only two NGO-backed shelters in Japan for foreign women who were trafficked. He said he visited both of them during his visit to Japan.

“These are very small shelters, they take what, eight or 10 people each at maximum at any one time and here you have thousands and thousands of victims,” he said.

Miller said those women who manage to escape their perpetrators are often quickly deported, without questioning, after being labeled as visa violators.

He voiced concern that Japan’s “entertainment” visa legally provides a loophole for sexual exploitation by underworld networks.

“The Japanese entertainment visa is a euphemism for bringing people into slavery,” he said, “there doesn’t seem to be any effort to tighten that system.”

Japan can work with other Asian countries to combat such issues as sex tourism, child pornography and “hostess bar” recruitment, he said.

“I hope, in the next couple of months, that there will be greater effort,” Miller said.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5