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Thursday, April 8, 2004

Volunteer offers consultation to women trafficked to Japan


Staff writer

KOBE -- A volunteer probation officer and court interpreter in Kobe has begun a telephone consultation service for foreign women trafficked to Japan and forced into prostitution.

News photo
Yukiko Oishi meets in January with boys at a Manila-area juvenile detention center. PHOTO COURTESY OF YUKIKO OISHI

Yukiko Oishi will lend both a sympathetic ear and practical advice to such women, mainly Asian women in western Japan, up to and including assisting them with finding legal representation.

Oishi, a court interpreter in the Kansai region and volunteer probation officer for the city of Kobe, has been involved in domestic educational issues for four decades. She also owns her own English school.

Through her work as a court interpreter these past seven years, often with foreign women who have been exploited, she came to recognize the severity of the problem of women who have been trafficked to Japan.

"The trafficking of women, particularly Asian women and girls, is a huge business here, mainly because Japan does not have any laws that ban the trafficking of people," Oishi said.

There are no official statistics on the number of foreign women who are trafficked to Japan each year. Human rights' groups have varying estimates, ranging from 75,000 to 200,000 yearly.

Many of the women are duped by brokers who tell them they will be working as waitresses or some other other legitimate job. Others, however, according to anthropologists who have researched the human trafficking issue, are aware of what they are getting into, do so anyway due to their economic plight, but nonetheless find the situation in Japan worse than expected.

"Virtually all of these brokers are associated with the yakuza. Japanese police may crack down on a broker after it can be proved he forced the woman into prostitution," Oishi said. "But because Japan has no laws against trafficking, they can do little to prevent the broker from bringing women into Japan in the first place."

Although Oishi's telephone consultation service will be open to all foreigners, she has a particular interest in Philippine women.

In January, she traveled to Manila with a group of Japanese volunteer probation officers, visiting youth correctional institutions, and meeting with juvenile delinquents, educators and lawmakers.

"It was an eye-opening experience because I learned a lot about how male and female juvenile delinquents are cared for. It gave me good insight into the social and economic conditions behind the reasons why women from the Philippines are trafficked to Japan," she said.

Those who call Oishi will be asked to explain how they came to Japan, their work conditions, and what help, if any, they have already sought. Oishi said her job is to both listen to their troubles and offer introductions to other volunteer support groups and legal assistance.

While Oishi speaks only Japanese and English, she has a network of friends and colleagues who are fluent in a variety of Asian languages and are willing to help.

"The purpose of setting up this hotline is to have these women come forward voluntarily, before they end up being further abused or arrested. Right now, I'm the only person operating the hotline. But the problem is too big to ignore and somebody has to take the first step toward solving it," Oishi said.

For more information or consultations, contact Yukiko Oishi, in Japanese or English, at (078) 581-0644. There are no set hours for the hotline, but calls should be placed before 11 p.m.


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