Modern-day slavery in Japan

Long after the abolition of slavery in countries around the world, human trafficking, the modern version of slavery, is becoming internationally widespread. According to a 2016 estimate by Walk Free, an Australian-based human rights advocacy group, 45.8 million people are enslaved worldwide.¹ Mariko Yamaoka, Director of Not For Sale Japan (NFSJ)², and a member of Hijirigaoka Church in Tokyo, warns that human trafficking is emerging in various forms in Japan, not just distant developing countries. She urges us to take heed of what is happening.

“Human trafficking is defined as the exploitative practice of using deception, threats, or violence to force a person to work,” explains Yamaoka. “It is a fast-growing criminal industry because of its lucrative nature.” Major types of human trafficking include labor exploitation, sexual exploitation, organ harvesting, child soldiers, forced marriage, and forced petty crime such as pickpocketing and begging.

In a typical scenario of labor exploitation, an agent recruits people by telling them about an attractive job opportunity overseas. But as soon as the workers arrive in the foreign country they are informed that they owe the agent a large sum of money to cover their airfare and a range of administrative fees. They are then forced to live and work in very poor conditions. In some cases their passports are confiscated so that they are unable to leave, or they are confined so that they cannot communicate with the outside world.

Human trafficking is emerging in various forms in Japan

Yamaoka views sexual exploitation as a form of labor exploitation. “Some women are enticed overseas by a marriage proposal, but once they get there they are forced to engage in prostitution. Some are confined and forced to appear in pornography. Sexually exploited women suffer deep physical and emotional trauma that is very difficult to recover from,” she said.

Human trafficking is on the rise in Japan. In fact, “both the U.S. government and the U.N. have warned that the Japanese government is not doing enough to stop human trafficking,” said Yamaoka. One system susceptible to exploitation is the Technical Intern Training Program for foreign workers. Yamaoka said, “The intention of the program is for Japanese companies to accept interns from developing countries and teach them professional skills. However, the reality is that many foreign trainees are employed in harsh conditions that Japanese workers prefer to avoid. The foreign trainees are forced to work long hours and paid below the minimum wage, but the interns are in a vulnerable position and most are afraid to complain.”

Cases of sexual exploitation are also on the increase in Japan. According to Yamaoka, “Women from Southeast Asia are forced to work in bars and clubs in Japan. Japanese high school girls searching for part-time jobs through social networking services are tricked into prostitution. Some young Japanese women are recruited for seemingly safe jobs, only finding themselves later forced to appear in X-rated videos.”

Yamaoka calls on Christians to learn more about the realities of human trafficking. “Once you understand the situation, ask yourself what Jesus would do about it. Then take action and let your light shine into the world.”

1. Walk Free, accessed Feb 1, 2017.

2. Not for Sale Japan Facebook page, accessed Feb 1, 2017.

Summarized and translated by permission from the Christian Shimbun (October 23, 2016), by Atsuko Tateishi.

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