The Lack of Proper Law Enforcement in Japan: Children Are Exposed to Sex Trafficking and Perpetrators Can Operate with Impunity

The US State Department has criticized Japan for failing to meet minimum standards for child sex trafficking, despite its efforts to combat the industry worth 24 billion dollars.

The Lack of Proper Law Enforcement in Japan: Children Are Exposed to Sex Trafficking and Perpetrators Can Operate with Impunity
Stop child sex trafficking in Japan by Nadine Shaabana, via Unsplash, January 28th 2019.

June 26th 2024

Pauliina Majasaari

Team East Asia Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence


The State Department of the United States recently published a report on the status of human trafficking, stating that Japan should improve its efforts in combating human trafficking and, especially, child sex trafficking. While recognising the measures that Japan has taken to eliminate human trafficking, the report highlights how the country still fails to meet the minimum standards for elimination of child sex trafficking.


The estimated worth of the sex industry in Japan is close to 24 billion dollars, which showcases the widespread and common status of the sector trapping thousands of men, women, and children within. Especially alarming is the vast use of children in the sex industry through human trafficking, where young girls are trafficked from other countries, such as within Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, under the false promise and pretext of receiving work within the modelling, catering, or entertainment industry, whilst in reality being exploited for the production of child pornography and forced prostitution. Commonly, the public is unaware of the major issue of child sex trafficking, and the prevailing belief is that such practices only take place in developing countries other than Japan. Such lack of awareness by the public, families, and children themselves creates further vulnerability to sex trafficking of children as the protection of their rights is not as strong. NGOs and NPOs operating on different levels of society have worked towards bringing awareness about sex trafficking of children and educating parents and children on the indicators of trafficking and of children’s rights as well as supporting vulnerable children, such as those who are unaccompanied by adults or have moved abroad or trafficked with the belief that they should be able to support their families financially.


The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), sets out the definition of human trafficking, under Article 3, according to which human trafficking in children entails the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation, including exploitation of prostitution or other sexual activity or other forms of sexual exploitation. Furthermore, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 1, a child is a human being under the age of eighteen. In addition, the CRC, under Article 35, places an obligation on the State parties to take all possible measures to prevent trafficking of children for any purpose or in any form. In conjunction, Article 34 of the CRC demands states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation, especially to take all available measures to prevent the exploitative use of children in prostitution and pornographic performances and materials, amongst other issues.


As per definition, children in Japan are subjected to human trafficking as young children under the age of 18 are transferred and transported from other countries to Japan, where the human traffickers receive the children to exploit them within sex work. The trafficking operations are usually conducted by organised criminal groups. As sex trafficking of children is still widespread in Japan, it is violating its obligations set under the CRC to prevent and protect children from trafficking and the consequent sexual exploitation, as many underaged children are used for child pornography and prostitution. According to the US State Department report on human trafficking in Japan, whilst Japan has taken measures to reduce vulnerabilities to sex trafficking of children, major gaps remain in the law enforcement and prosecution of trafficking of children for sexual exploitation. The government authorities have identified hundreds of children used for the commercial sex industry, with the failure of using indicators to assess whether human trafficking is present, resulting in the fact that human traffickers can operate without fear of punishment or penalty. Such inefficient actions by the government of Japan are against the obligations to protect and especially prevent children from being trafficked for sexual purposes.


Consequently, the international community is urging Japan to diligently investigate and prosecute sex trafficking in children and impose appropriate penalties, such as significant prison terms to deter other human traffickers from preying on children for sexual exploitation. Thereby, children would receive stronger protection granted on behalf of the state of Japan as well as they could better enjoy their rights as set out under the CRC. In addition, NGOs and NPOs are asked to continue with their activism against sex trafficking of children and bring further awareness on this hidden issue in Japan, and simultaneously work towards preventing and protecting children from such abuse.



Sources and further readings:


Annerie van Wyk, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: The Reality of Human Trafficking and Exploitation on Japan’ It’s A Penalty(2021) <> accessed 26 June 2024.


Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).


Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (adopted 15 November 2000, entered into force 25 December 2003) 2237 UNTS 319 (Palermo Protocol).


‘Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People: Sex Trafficking of Children in Japan’ ecpat and The Body Shop.


‘2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Japan’ U.S. Department of State (2023) <> accessed 26 June 2024.


‘U.S. says Japan still has work to do in combating human trafficking’ Japan Today (25 June 2024) <> accessed 26 June 2024.