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Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006

Official tally: 115 women trafficked here in '05


Staff writer

The Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau said Tuesday 115 women from six countries were trafficked into Japan in 2005, the first number it has officially tallied.

Over 90 percent of the women were from the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, and the average age was 24, officials said.

Of the 115, 114 have returned to their home countries, and one woman has remained here due to marriage. The bureau said 47 women had violated the immigration law, including entering the country on forged passports or overstaying their visas. The other 68 women were in Japan legally on entertainment visas.

Following international criticism that Tokyo was not taking strong enough action against human-trafficking, the government made changes to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law. The revisions, which took effect in July, state clearly that trafficking victims who are here illegally will receive special temporary resident permits.

The Justice Ministry gave special permits to the 47 victims for terms of either one or three months so they could prepare to leave Japan.

"These cases came to light through various factors," said an Immigration Bureau official. "In some cases, the women themselves sought help from police or nongovernmental organizations, while in other cases, police or immigration officials found the victims through their own investigations."

In one case, nine Filipinos entered Japan on entertainment visas but then had their passports taken away from them and were forced to work as hostesses, according to one immigration official.

The National Police Agency announced last week that there were 117 human-trafficking victims who came from nine countries in 2005.

That number includes victims who were placed under police protection after investigators uncovered illegal clubs, or others who ran away and sought help.

Of those victims, women who violated the immigration law were reported to the Justice Ministry, which processed their temporary permits.

The immigration official, however, said the ministry was not aware of all the human-trafficking cases police handled because some women were legal residents here.

In some cases, women voluntarily came forward to immigration officials.

It is believed, however, that thousands of women are trafficked into Japan yearly.



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