With ten more years to go before the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030, local ordinances are extremely important in achieving those goals in the local community.
For several years, men in suit or casual clothing would approach young women to recruit them to work in the sex industry at the train stations in Okayama and Kurashiki cities in Okayama Prefecture. Many women have been targeted day and night in an organized manner. Without any ordinance in Okayama Prefecture prohibiting these acts, the police could not take any action against these men.
Many students of a women's university pass through the Okayama station on their way to school. Since I teach in this university, I conducted a simple survey among students in my class on this problem and found out that approximately two-thirds of the students had experienced aggressive acts of recruitment.
Their experiences included escaping through the station ticket gates because they were persistently followed, being closely followed all the way from the West Exit to the East Exit, being offered to work for a hostess bar once a week, being called out five times by the same person, being followed around and persistently told that she could make 500,000 Yen (if she worked in the sex industry).
Conflict with Goals 4, 5 and 11
The Okayama Prefecture is often considered as having advanced programs on SDGs. Yet the daily persistent aggressive acts of recruitment by men around the train stations is nothing but "violence" against the targeted female students. This situation goes against Goal 5 of the SDGs (gender equality), especially Target 5.2 on elimination of "all forms of violence against all women and girls in public and private spheres."
Also, the female students face aggressive acts of recruitment around the Okayama station on their way to school every day. This results in (1) feeling uncomfortable when they go to school, (2) having bad feeling about this problem while studying at the university, (3) and fearing the recruiters while taking the train to go home. This situation also contravenes Target (4a) of providing “safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all” of Goal 4 (education) of the SDGs.
Furthermore, the situation around the stations of Okayama and Kurashiki, where blatant and pernicious aggressive acts of recruitment happen continuously day and night seven days a week, is against Target 11.7 of providing “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, particularly for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities” of Goal 11 (sustainable cities and human settlements).
If Okayama Prefecture values its image as a place with advanced programs on SDGs, it should improve this situation.
It can be argued that in a democratic country such as Japan these acts cannot be restricted because they are economic activities. But the nature of these activities should be sufficient basis for their prohibition. Indeed, this terrible situation around the two stations, which are gateways to Okayama Prefecture for many visitors for business and tourism, is damaging the image of the prefecture as a whole that leads to considerable economic loss.
The harm caused by these aggressive acts of recruitment, seen in urban commercial areas in the country, cannot be addressed by a uniform national law. Local ordinances are needed to regulate or prohibit these acts in a manner appropriate to the area.
Amending an Ordinance
The move to amend the Anti-nuisance Ordinance of Okayama Prefecture by adding a prohibition on aggressive acts of recruitment in the prefecture began in 2018.
People in communities around Kurashiki and Okayama stations petitioned the Prefectural Council and its members and the prefectural government to prohibit the increasingly aggravating "solicitations" related to the sex industry. As the harms of aggressive acts of recruitment targeting students became apparent, the Prefectural Police prepared a draft amendment of the prefectural Ordinance.
In May 2018, a Member of the Prefectural Council raised the issue at the plenary session in a formal question to the Governor and the Chief of the Prefectural Police, with students watching from the public gallery. The issue was repeated in further questions. The Prefectural Police reacted positively, and for almost a year since then, the police focused on patrolling areas around Kurashiki Station. The Chief of the Prefectural Police himself inspected the area.
As a result, in November 2018, the Prefectural Police submitted an outline of the draft amendment of the Anti-nuisance Ordinance to the Prefectural Council Committee on Industry, Labor and Police. The draft amendment included an expansion of the scope of prohibition of surreptitious photographing, expansion of businesses covered under the prohibition of solicitation and recruitment, prohibition of recruiting and standing by to recruit, as well as sanctions for employers of persons engaging in these acts.
The public was invited to submit comments on the draft amendment from 22 November to 21 December 2018 resulting in two hundred forty-six comments, all supporting the proposed amendment and no single opposition. This was the largest number of responses received among the more than three hundred invitations for public comment on prefectural policy plans including draft ordinances. It seems that many students at the university voluntarily sent comments through the prefectural website.
Finally, on 3 July 2019, as the students watched from the public gallery, the draft amendment of the Anti-nuisance Ordinance was adopted in full.
The Experience of "Changing" the Ordinance
While the draft amendment was being prepared and discussed, the students participated in surveys, voluntarily observed the Council sessions, and submitted comments. These experiences seem to have enabled them to gain political empowerment, and a sense of being politically effective. Majority of the students who responded to a questionnaire conducted soon after the adoption of the amendment expressed this view. Below are some of their responses in the questionnaire:
I was able to reaffirm that when each of us raised our voice, it would reach the government, as it did in this case of the Anti-nuisance Ordinance. So, I thought that when more students vote, there may be more policies for students.
xxx xxx xxx
A year ago, when I was asked to respond to the survey, I had misgivings about whether it was meaningful. But now that the Anti-nuisance Ordinance was adopted, I learned firsthand that my views could be reflected in public policy, and so I thought I should go to vote.
Now students are more interested and actively studying local Councils and ordinances. One student wrote in her response,
"There is an area around the shopping arcade in Takamatsu where I often go that is dangerous … so I am thinking of looking into the ordinances in the place."
Continuing Harm and Uncertainties Ahead
The Ordinance will enter into force on 1 October 2020. Until then, the aggressive acts of recruitment continue. This was expressed in the questionnaire:
Two men came up to me and asked whether I would like to work in Tokyo and Osaka. They said they will contact me through Line and Instagram.
xxx xxx xxx
A girl was approached at Okayama Station, and was being followed until she went
through the ticket gate. The act was blatant, even though it was daytime. I really hoped the Ordinance would be enforced soon.
Many students were also worried whether or not the police would seriously control these acts after the Ordinance came into force. Some wrote in the questionnaire:
I am unsure whether the police will enforce the Ordinance after it is enacted. I hope that it will not be just at the beginning, when it would have public attention.
xxx xxx xxx
I am concerned, whether the police will come and patrol each time the recruitment occurs. It is therefore necessary to continue monitoring the activities of these men and follow-up on the issue.
After 1 October 2020, the Prefectural Police will be responsible for addressing the issue, and the harms and burdens on the individual will no doubt decrease significantly. If the police are found to be negligent, a complaint may be filed (under Article 79 of the Police Act) to the Okayama Prefectural Public Safety Commission (consisting of academics and lawyers) which oversees the Prefectural Police. The Commission also has a high regard for the draft amendment of the Ordinance, calling it "groundbreaking."1
Creating /changing Rules to Achieve SDGs
In order to achieve the SDGs, it is certainly important to make various efforts under existing ordinances. But in cases where existing ordinances are causing harm, or when SDGs could be a c h i e v e d b y c h a n g i n g ordinances, there should definitely be attempts at enacting and/or amending the ordinances themselves. Calling for the enactment/amendment of ordinances would not require a budget or subsidy. All that is needed is to bring together the general public’s dissatisfaction and the voices of the victims and appeal to the Council or their Members to act on the issue, and Members and government officials who have the expertise on the matter would prepare the draft ordinance. This will also certainly lead to political empowerment of the people. With local ordinances, the size of the support does not have to be as large as when enacting national laws or thei r amendments. They involve concerns that are closely related to daily life (including going to and from work, school and marketplace), and with a little effort, they can attract the attention of the residents and students. The outcome can also be more easily felt. By enacting and/or amending ordinances, we can change the local community for the better and make progress in achieving the SDGs in the local areas more efficiently as we near the achievement date.
Eiji Hamanishi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Contemporary Sociological Studies, Faculty of Literature, Notre Dame Seishin University (NDSU) in Okayama City. He is also the Chief of the NDSU Center for Regiona l Collaboration and SDGs Promotion.
For more information, please contact Eiji Hamanishi through this e-mail address: email@example.com.
1. Based on minutes of the regular meeting of the Public Safety Commission, 25 April 2019.