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FOCUS March 2006 Volume 43

Trafficking in Persons and the Filipino Entertainers in Japan

Nobuki Fujimoto*

* Nobuki Fujimoto is a staff member of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

The 2004 and 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report of the United States describe Japan as a "destination country for a large number of Asian, Latin American, and Eastern European women and children who are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation." The reports also mention the trafficking of Asian and Latin American men to Japan for "criminal, labor and/or commercial sexual purposes." The reports cite the involvement of Japanese organized crime groups (yakuza) in trafficking, and the failure of the Japanese government to "fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking...[while] making significant efforts to do so."

Trafficking in women and children has been recognized since the late 1980s by Japanese non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the mass media and government agencies. While the word "trafficking" was not yet commonly used at that time, several Japanese NGOs (like HELP and SAALAA) have already been assisting victims of forced prostitution by providing shelter and other services. They addressed the trafficking issue by coordinating their work with NGOs in the countries where the victims come from. At that time, most of the women victims were from the Philippines and Thailand

The government of Japan, on the other hand, neither took effective and comprehensive measures to penalize the traffickers nor protected the victims. Instead, the victims were usually treated as criminals' violating the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act or Immigration Act (for overstaying) and/or the Anti- Prostitution Law (for sex solicitation). They were deported back to their own countries without having an opportunity to seek justice and rehabilitation in Japan

During the 1990s, the call from the Japanese and international NGO communities and United Nations human rights bodies for measures to address trafficking in Japan continued to grow

Government measures

In response to the domestic and international concern and criticism on the trafficking issue, the Japanese government started in 2004 to seriously take steps for the prevention and elimination of trafficking within a few years time

In April 2004, the government established the Inter-Ministerial Liaison Committee (Task Force) on measures to combat trafficking in persons. In December 2004, after a Task Force consultation with institutions and NGOs in Japan, the Philippines and Thailand, the government adopted the Japan's Action Plan of Measures to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Action Plan).[1]

The Action Plan stresses three main aspects: (1) the importance of measures to combat trafficking in persons, (2) thorough understanding of the current situation of trafficking in persons, and (3) general and comprehensive measures to combat trafficking in persons

In line with the Action Plan, the Japanese parliament revised the Penal Code and the Immigration Act on 16 June 2005 in order to punish people involved in human trafficking, and grant victims special residence status even if they have overstayed. The law revisions took effect on 12 July 2005

Under the revised Penal Code, purchasing a person and putting him or her under control is punishable with imprisonment ranging from three months to five years. The maximum punishment increases to seven years if the victim is a child. In cases of human trafficking for profit or sexual purposes, the prison term is from one year to 10 years

Under the revised Immigration Act, the Justice Minister has the discretion to allow the trafficking victims to stay in Japan for sometime before returning to their country. During their stay, they will be asked to cooperate with the police in the investigation of their case. Foreign nationals found to be involved in trafficking will be deported, while those who provide forged travel documents to others with the intention of sending them to Japan face a prison term of up to three years or a fine of up to 3 million Yen

The government, so far, does not intend to enact a law on necessary and effective measures to protect and assist the trafficking victims

The Action Plan however provides concrete measures to protect the trafficking victims such as (1) recognizing them as victims, (2) providing shelters, (3) providing counsel and consultation services, etc., (4) assisting those who seek shelter at police precincts, (5) helping them obtain residence status, (6) assuring their safety, and (7) assisting in their repatriation

While the government says that it will implement these measures, the Action Plan itself is not a legally binding document and has insufficient budget allocation

Filipino Entertainers in Japan

While many women trafficking victims entered Japan with tourist visa, there are women who came to the country as entertainers (using entertainer visa that is valid for 6 months at most)

Among the foreign entertainers' in Japan, Filipinos constitute the largest number. The number of female entertainers from the Philippines gradually increased from late 1970s. There were 80,048 Filipino entertainers, including some male entertainers, in 2003 and 82,741 in 2004. They comprised 60 % of the total number of entertainers from all over the world

Instead of singing or dancing in entertainment halls, Filipino entertainers are mostly working in nightclubs as "hostesses" - serving drinks, talking and singing with customers

Filipino entertainers are usually forced to work under conditions that do not comply with their employment contract with the recruiting agency in the Philippines and promoters in Japan. They get low wages, and are obliged to date customers during daytime (dohan). Club owners impose penalties if they fail to meet the target number of customers. In some cases, they are forced into prostitution

Foreign entertainers are not allowed to work as hostesses under the Immigration Act. But the government has long overlooked violations by employers or nightclub owners

The Action Plan includes a review of the system of issuing visa for "foreign entertainers". It recognizes that many people who entered Japan with entertainer visa have become trafficking victims. Many of them are Filipinos who obtained certificate as artist from the Philippine government, without proper qualification as entertainers

The Ministry of Justice provided new requirements for applicants of entertainer visa in early 2005. The applicants are now required to show that they have at least 2 years of study in an educational institution on the entertainment work they are applying for, or at least 2 years of experience in this work outside Japan. In this case, the so-called Artist Record Book (ARB) and Artist Accreditation Certificate (AAC) issued by the Philippine government are no longer honored

On 13 March 2006, the Ministry of Justice issued the requirements for business establishments that want to hire foreign entertainers. They (nightclub operators or any of their staff members) should not have any record of involvement in trafficking. If they are found to have been involved in illegal employment or falsified immigration documents during the last 5 years, the visa issuance will be withheld. They are required to pay at least the minimum wage of 200,000 Yen per month to the entertainer visa holders, which should be part of a written contract. And they have to provide documentary proof of making such payment regularly during the last 3 years of operation

The new requirements, which will take effect on 1 June 2006, are intended to eradicate the vicious cycle of exploitation as well as to reduce the number of trafficking victims. However, considering the high number of Filipino women yearning to work as entertainers in Japan, stricter requirements may lead to underground operations that make the problem invisible

The Japanese and the Philippine governments and the NGOs should closely monitor the implementation of the new requirements on entertainers, and the situations they actually face

Increased number of trafficking victims

The National Police Agency records on 2005 trafficking cases show an increase in the number of trafficking victims, compared to 2004. Out of 117 women victims, there are 44 Indonesians, 40 Filipinas, 21 Thais, 4 Taiwanese, 4 Romanians and one each from Columbia, Korea, Australia, and Estonia. On the other hand, 83 persons have been arrested for trafficking

The Immigration Bureau, for the first time, released information on trafficking cases it handled in 2005. The record shows 115 foreign women trafficking victims, including 6 children (under 18 years old). It also reports that 20 women were forced into prostitution by the traffickers. The Immigration Bureau granted special visa to the victims for their temporary stay in Japan

The recording of trafficking cases by the government (through the National Police Agency and the Immigration Bureau) indicates the seriousness of its effort to combat trafficking after the Action Plan was adopted in December 2004

Remaining Issues

While the recent anti-trafficking efforts by the Japanese government are noteworthy, there are remaining issues that should be addressed.

  1. Legal status of victims
    In order to protect and rehabilitate trafficking victims, the special permission to stay in Japan under the revised Immigration Act should not be subject to the discretion of the Justice Minister. Instead, it should be considered as a right in order that victims can seek justice. Consequently, a trafficking victim recognition system should be established which would grant not only temporary stay in Japan but also 'Long Term Residence' status.
  2. Protection and support
    1. Specialized facility
      In order to provide effective protection of, and support for, the victims, the government should establish a Support Center for Human Trafficking Victims. This is a facility with resources and programs for the protection and counseling of trafficking victims. The government should allocate the necessary budget for professional staff and operations of the facility.

      The government should provide financial assistance to the non-governmental shelters for trafficking victims. These shelters have been playing a vital role since 1980s, despite many difficulties including inadequate fund and staff who understand the native languages of the victims. The government support will strengthen their activities that in turn could lead to further collaboration between the government and civil society sector.
    2. Law for the protection and support of the trafficking victims
      While trafficking has become a crime by revising the Penal Code, protection and support for the trafficking victims still have no legal support. There is a need for a law for the protection and support of the trafficking victims.
  3. Demand for the sex industry
    Trafficking is closely related to the demand from the sex industry. The Japanese sex industry, including the internet-based, is huge. It is estimated to be a 10 trillion - Yen industry (approximately US$ 85 billion). Controlling the sex industry is crucial to the elimination of trafficking. The question is how can this demand be suppressed?

For further information, contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.


1. For the full Action Plan document visit: www.mofa.go.jp/policy/i_crime/people/index.html

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