• Kyodo

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A Japanese man and his son face human trafficking and child abuse charges involving the mistreatment of 13 compatriots on a small island in the southern Philippines, police said Wednesday.

They said Hajime Kawauchi, 61, and his son, Yuya, 34, have been detained since May 3, along with a Filipina woman. They were arrested on suspicion of taking in the Japanese individuals, aged 13 through 20, as students of their English and karate training center without having obtained necessary permits and forcing them to perform tasks outside of the original purpose of their stay in the country.

“Upon verification by the Bureau of Immigration, it was found out that those students had no permit to study in the country. It was also found out that some of the kids were maltreated and subjected to forced labor,” Chief Inspector Milgrace Driz, spokesman for the police in the region, said by phone.

Driz said the victims — three females and 10 males — were voluntarily sent by their parents, believing the English and martial arts lessons they paid for were legitimate. Some have been in the country for as much as 15 months, while the newest arrival was on April 30.

She said lessons were held at the beginning of their stay in the country but gradually stopped. Eventually, the victims were directed to dig up the ground and carry cement for the construction of a building at the suspects’ facility on Samal, an island-city located off the coast of the major southern city of Davao.

Driz said the authorities first became aware of the problem after the Japanese suspects’ Filipino staff reported to police that four of the 13 “students” went missing on May 1.

They were later accounted for, having gone to the Japanese Consulate in Davao on May 2.

The authorities worked in coordination with the consulate to resolve the situation, rescuing the nine other “students”.

Social welfare officers in the Davao area said 12 of the victims are being cared for locally, while one has already flown back to Japan.

The suspects, meanwhile, are being held at the police station on Samal Island.