TED Case Studies
from Thailand to Japan
Japan has kept a bad reputation as the biggest "exporter" as well as "importer" in Asian sex industry for the last several decades. As an exporter, for example, Japan is accused of exporting 80 percent of child porno on the web-sites in the world. As an importer, the large number of Japanese men have gone to East and Southeast Asian countries on sex tours. At the same time, despite an official policy against importing unskilled labor from abroad, the more female workers engaged in sex industry are flowing into Japan from other Asian countries. Among them, the number of Thai women is especially increasing. Some lucky women may bring a lot of money from Japan to their villages, and their "success stories" lure the followers. However, most of women face debt bondage, physical abuse by employers and clients, and the hazards of HIV/AIDS in Japan, and end in the deportation without money. The trafficking in women not only violates basic human rights of the Thai women, but also causes cultural and social problems in Thai society, such as the disruption of traditional moralities and the spread of materialism in communities. Moreover, the increasing incidence of HIV/AIDS infection resulting from the trafficking has become serious problem both in Thailand and Japan.
|"Since arriving to work in
Japan, I cried a lot although normally I did not cry
easily" --- A
personal story of Thai woman who was trafficked to Japan as a sex
After leaving a primary school, I helped my parents do some domestic chores and worked in the paddy field. My friend told me that she was going to work in Japan and persuaded me to go with her. I decided to go with her. But I told my mother I went to work in Bangkok.
When we arrived in Japan, the weather was so cold. An agent chose me and my friend and sent us to Tokyo. Other women were sent to rural areas. The agent told us that each of us owed him 500,000 Thai Baht (about US$ 20,000). We were taken to a bar where inside we could see thirty Thai women singing and talking to customers. A man who was in charge of the bar told me to sit with one of the customers who had already paid him 30,000 Yen (about US$ 300). After that, he ordered me to go out with that customer.
Many times I saw Yakuza or the Japanese gangsters rush into the bar. One day, three of Yakuza came in and took three Thai women out. The women returned to the bar with tears. One woman had had her throat tickled with a knife and was forced to have oral sex. Another woman was forced to get into the bathtub, and then the man urinated on her face. Sometimes, while I was staying with a customer in a room, I heard my colleague screaming for help in Thai from a room near by. But my customer forbade me to do anything about it or I myself would receive the same awful treatment.
There were some women who ran away. The boss paid Yakuza to trace them and return them for punishment. They locked the woman up in a small room in which she had to sleep with any customers they commanded. If she disobeyed, she would have only one choice-death. Since arriving to work in Japan, I cried a lot although normally I did not cry easily.
One day when we were walking, two policemen came to hold our arms and asked us to show them our passports. We told them that we left them in our room but in fact, our visas had expired a long time ago. We were taken to a Police Station. There were about 200 women inside and we were investigated. Most of the Thai women had been there for two or three months. They said that they couldn't afford any air tickets so they were waiting for help from the Thai Embassy. One morning, the immigration policeman called our names telling us that we could go back home. I was so delighted but when I saw many of my fellow countrywomen who were not called crying, I felt sympathy for them but couldn't provide any help.
I was deported. After working in these conditions I arrived in Thailand empty handed. All my work, my traumatic experience, was for nothing. At present I stay with my parents and my little nephews in my village. I make my living from a small grocery and do some agriculture. All of this work requires labour, endurance and some capital. But everyone of us who was born in this world has to struggle and work hard in order to live in this world. I also give my time working on the committee for the women's group in my village. Though it is just a small thing, I hope it can be useful for the community.
----Summary of a Thai woman's personal story "Once in My Life," Our Lives Our Stories (Bangkok, Thailand: Foundation of Women, 1995, pp12-42)
Definition: What is Trafficking?
A joint statement submitted in February 2000 by several organizations, such as UNHCR, UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) defined trafficking as: "the recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring or receipt of any person for any purpose or in any form, including the recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring or receipt of any person by the threat or use of force or by abduction, fraud, deception, coercion or abuse of power for the purposes of slavery, forced labor (including bonded labor or debt bondage) and servitude." They noted that "servitude" should include 'contemporary forms of slavery,' such as forced prostitution." 
There is the international consensus that trafficking must be understood to apply to all labor sectors, including, but not limited to, sex industry.  Distinguishing trafficking from voluntary migration is also crucial because the ability of women to purposefully and voluntarily migrate for work should be respected. In the case of women trafficking from Thailand to Japan, around 90 percent of the women were forced or tricked into the trade in the 1980s. But based on information obtained from detainees or deportees from Japan, about 80 percent of the women going to Japan in the mid-1990s had the intention of working in sex services. However, many did not know that once they arrived in Japan they would have to work under the control of an agent.  Moreover, most of the women have to work bearing the huge debt bondage. Therefore, the "trade" of female sex worker from Thailand to Japan should be regarded as trafficking.
Background: Why are Thai women trafficked to Japan?
The trafficking of Southeast Asian women for sex services in Japan began on a large scale in the 1970s. Before that Japanese men had gone abroad on organized sex tours, which began in the early 1960s and expanded in the 1970s, when the country enjoyed its rapid economic growth. However, in the 1970s and 1980s NGOs and feminist movements in Japan, in the Philippines and in Thailand protested against Japanese sex tours. Consequently, agents began importing Southeast Asian women into Japan. In the beginning many women brought into Japan were from the Philippines. But in the 1980s, the then Prime Minister of the Philippines, Aquino, tried to stop out-migration by stricter policing at the airport. These measures made it difficult for agents to operate in the Philippines, and they moved to Thailand. 
There are three major reasons why the trafficking in women for sex services has increased: (1) the push factors in the sending country (Thailand), (2) the pull factors in the receiving country (Japan), (3) and the resulting profitability which creates incentives for agents.
(1) The push factors: Thailand's high economic growth in the 1980s and early 1990s raised the demand for sex services inside Thailand and abroad. The economic growth also caused income inequality between rural and urban areas; the rapid industrialization exploited agricultural sector and ignored rural development. Many young women in villages were recruited by agents and trafficked to urban Thailand and abroad. In the mid-1990s, traffickers began to recruit women from Burma, Laos, China and other neighboring countries. The inflow of low-cost recruits prompted more Thai women to go overseas. Moreover, Thai government policies have supported labor export in general as a means to reduce local unemployment and to bring in foreign exchange. For example, a politician suggested that a special fund should be set up to provide loans for migrant workers to pay for the cost of going overseas. The policy implicitly includes women for sex services.
(2) The pull factors: High wage levels and the appreciation of the Japanese yen have made Japan been the most attractive destination for transnational migrants from poorer countries. In fact, it was estimated that monthly potential savings of a freelance Thai sex worker in Osaka prefecture in 1994-5 (gross income minus payment to gangsters and living costs) was about US$1,250. Even indentured women may be able to save money from tips about US$330 per month, which when translated into Thai baht from an appreciating Japanese yen is a highly significant sum in the Thai context. Therefore, despite a lot of horrendous stories of harsh treatment and exploitation by employers and clients, slave-like treatment and danger of HIV/AIDS infection, the potential for savings makes many women of poor villages overlook the negative side and continue to follow the same path.
(3) The profitability: Table 1 shows the estimated income accruing to agents from migrant fees in three major markets for Thai workers from 1993 to 1995. According to the table, migrant fee paid by women to be smuggled as sex workers into Japan was the most expensive. Most women who went to work as prostitutes, estimated at 6-9,000 each year, were indentured with debts of around US$32,000 each. The agents in Thailand spent up to US$6,000 for the costs of travel, documents and language training. They then sold the woman to an agent in Japan for US$15,000, realizing a profit of US$9,000 per woman. The agent in Japan then imposed a debt of US$32,000 on the woman, making a profit of US$17,000. Combining the fees paid by migrant women and men, agents received a gross amount of US$ 216,320 million per year. While trafficking women from Thailand to Japan is a profitable business for agents both in Thailand in Japan, women are constrained by a huge debt.
Number of migrants
Fee per person
|Japan||male workers||4,000-6,000||US$6,000-8,000||US$24-32 million|
|female sex workers||6,000-9,000||US$32,000||US$192-288 million|
|Taiwan||male and female workers||100,000||US$2,800-4,000||US$280-400 million|
|Germany||female sex workers||500||US$5,600||US$2.8 million|
|Total||110,500-115,500||US$ 500-724 million|
(Source: Pasuk Phongpaichit, "Trafficking in People," Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja, Voices of Thai Women 5-10, October, 1997, p181)
Trafficking Methodologies: How are Thai women trafficked?
The trafficking of Thai women into Japan for sex services is well organized under the control of Japanese and Thai agents, linked to the criminal world of both countries. The agents in Thailand will organize everything, including passport, visa, air tickets and basic Japanese language training. The agents in Thailand earn income by selling women to agents in Japan, and the agents in Japan make a profit by imposing a debt on women.
Recruiting women and girls for prostitution was fiercely competitive. In the rural regions, agents are usually local people or relatives and friends of local people who recruit directly from the villages. This is a change from the 1960s and 1970s when women moved to urban areas to find work and were recruited into the sex industry once there. A second recent development reported was that women were being moved directly to other countries, instead of serving a period of time in the nightclubs and brothels of Bangkok and Pataya. Because of greater demands for women perceived to be free of AIDS infection, women from remote areas and younger women become prime targets for recruiters.
There has been disagreement not only among policy makers but also among NGOs and feminist scholars with legislation addressing trafficking as well as prostitution issues. The main arguments can be summarized into following three aspects.
Criminalized and totally prohibited?
The "prohibitionist" or "abolitionist" system views prostitution as immoral, and aims at its eradication by banning the sex sector and criminalizing the activities of all those involved, i.e. the sex workers, the people procuring for or profiteering from prostitution, and clients. However, there is a recognition that banning the sex industry sector may merely serve to push it underground and further marginalize those most in need of protection from exploitation and abuse. It may also create opportunities for systematic corruption by public officials.
Legalized and regulated?
The "regulationist" or legislated system
provides for the registration and licensing of the sex sectors so as to confine
prostitutes to brothels in red light districts in order to ensure official
control of public order and public health. There are several pros and cons to
Pros: it can allow for regulating the sector, including directing legal sanctions at profiteering and trafficking; it can ensure that prostitutes undergo regular health checks; it can protect prostitutes from various forms of exploitation and their rights including working conditions.
Cons: compulsory registration accelerates discrimination against and stigmatization of women. Legal recognition of prostitution violates the human rights of prostitutes by giving official and societal legitimacy to the commercialization of women's body and sexuality for sale and profit by the sex industry. 
This approach means that individual prostitutes should be decriminalized, but it does not mean decriminalization of the institution of prostitution. Because the decriminalization of the institution of prostitution means acceptance or endorsement of the economic and social bases of prostitution which are rooted in patriarchal perspective of gender relations. Moreover, while there should be legal reforms to repeal legislation or regulations that allow commercial sex workers to be victimized or that penalize or discriminate against them, criminal sanctions should be tightened and enforced against those trafficking in, exploiting or abusing prostitutes. In addition, decriminalization should be supported by a range of other policies and programs, such as health, education and rehabilitation. 
In reality, the current major problem is that prostitution laws are discriminatorily enforced against women, and women prostitutes tend to be overwhelmingly penalized, while the men who derive profit (organizers of the industry) and pleasure (clients) are often free from penalty.  For example, in Japan, female sex workers from Thailand are regarded as doubly illegal; both migration of unskilled worker and prostituting are illegal. They are punished and deported by the authority, and their human rights are not protected because of their illegal status. On the other hand, there is no punishment against clients of the prostitutes under Japan's Prostitution Prevention Law.
Trafficking in persons is condemned under various international conventions which require states to take necessary steps to stop this practice. 
A NGO, Human Rights Watch criticized that "(b)y allowing perpetrators to exploit migrant women with virtual impunity --and by failing to check corruption among government officials who facilitate these crimes--the Japanese and Thai governments fail to live up to their international obligations and exacerbate women's vulnerability to abuse."
Japanese and Thai domestic legislation
There are several Japanese laws that can be used to punish persons who are engaged in trafficking in women. 
Despite the existence of several Japanese laws applicable to protect human rights of trafficked women, those laws rarely are used for the purpose because the Japanese authority regards those women merely as "illegal" workers. Moreover, NGOs often report the cases that women are abused or treated contemptuously by the Immigration Control officers.
Thailand has also engaged in substantial legislative reform in an effort to suppress trafficking in both children and women.
However, the Human Rights Watch criticizes that many law
enforcement officials are unaware that the new law exists. Moreover, the
Trafficking Act appears aimed at suppressing all migration of women suspected to
be seeking work in the sex industry, failing to differentiate between consensual
and non-consensual migration.
|Country||Total||Temporary||Entertainer||Student 1||Student 2||Trainee||Others|
(Source: Ministry of Justice, Japan)
Most migrants from Thailand entered Japan with temporary visa, i.e. tourist visa. According to the Japanese Immigration Act, the temporary visa is not employable. The permitted length of residence with the temporary visa is 15 or 90 days, depending on the immigrant's nationality. As table 2 shows, migrants from Thailand with the temporary visa, including many female sex workers, often worked illegally and overstayed their visa. Moreover, between 1991 to 1994, it was reported that 46,995 Thai women were sent back to Thailand for entering Japan illegally. Of all the women returnees, more than 70 percent said that they entered Japan using fake passports and most had worked as sex workers in Japan.
a. Geographic Domain: Asia
b. Geographic Site: Southeast and East Asia
c. Geographic Impact: Thailand and Japan
a. Directly Related to Product: YES Sex
b. Indirectly Related to Product: YES Tourism
c. Not Related to Product: NO
d. Related to Process: YES Health
(Source: Pasuk Phongpaichit, "Trafficking in People," Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja, Voices of Thai Women 5-10, October, 1997, p160)
Table 3 shows the number of Thai workers going to work abroad who passed through the labor inspection. According to the table, the major market for Thai migrants shifted from the Middle East region to Asia in the 1990s. One can assume that the Asia's rapid economic growth in the early 1990s triggered this shift. Taiwan is becoming Thailand's largest market for unskilled labor, mostly male, as Taiwan has accepted legal migrant workers from 1992. Taiwan is also quickly becoming the largest market for Thai prostitutes. As the Taiwanese economy prospers and education spreads, fewer young women are prepared to enter the sex industry. But the demand for young prostitutes remains high so agents seek out recruits in nearby countries. Since the figures in table include only those migrants with official permits, the number of sex workers may be underestimated or not be included. In fact, for example, while migrants from Thailand to Japan in 1994 are 8,848 men and women in the table 3, it was estimated that about 28,000 Thai female sex workers per year were overstaying their visas in Japan in the early 1990s.
(Source: Ministry of Justice, Japan)
Table 4 shows the number of foreigners who entered into Japan. The figures include those who entered Japan with a temporary visa, such as tourist and short-term business visa. While visitors and migrants from Thailand decreased in 1997 and in 1998, they increased again by 20.4 percent in 1999. In 1999, among 48,384 visitors and migrants from Thailand, about 87 percent or 42,014 people entered Japan with temporary visa.
Chart 1 shows a hierarchy in women trafficking in the Asia-Pacific region. In the past, the intra-region trafficking was dominated by Japan as the main destination for sex workers in the region. However, recently, sex trafficking to newly industrializing economies (NIEs), such as Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia, has been increasing. Malaysia gets women from Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, China, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Burma, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Laos. Thailand gets women mainly from Burma and Southern China and partly from Laos and Vietnam. Hong Kong receives women from Korea, Nepal and the Philippines. While the NIEs experience rapid economic growth, women from these countries are also being trafficked to more affluent countries. Malaysian prostitutes can be found in Hong Kong and Australia. Thai women are trafficked to Japan, Australia, India, Malaysia and the Middle East. Korean women are trafficked to Hong Kong. It seems that the country's economic growth does not improve the status of women or put an end to the risk and reality of their sexual exploitation.  Chart 2 shows a hierarchy in women trafficking within Thailand. Urban-rural income disparity resulting from the rapid economic growth has brought women from poor rural villages to urban areas, such as Bangkok. In the past, many rural women and girls were trafficked to abroad through Bangkok. But recently, in many cases women are directly recruited in rural areas and sent to foreign countries.
HIV/AIDS problems: HIV/AIDS problems relating women trafficking have affected not only migrant sex workers but also the Japanese society. Japan continues to see an increase in the number of HIV/AIDS positive patients, despite other nations starting to show a decline. According to Japan's Health Ministry, the number of new AIDS and HIV positive patients, excluding the hemophiliacs with the disease, hit a record high of 647 in 1997. The AIDS Surveillance Committee said in its recent report that the increases were found mainly among male Japanese and female foreigners.  To make matters worse, it is reported that the Japanese men, who contracted HIV/AIDS from foreign prostitutes in Japan and abroad, infect their wives.
Hampering sustainable development: Moreover, migrant workers, let alone trafficked women who are engaged in the sex industry, rarely learn useful skills. Transnational migration does not provide sustainable and long-lasting benefit for their families or communities. Moreover, the Thai government's enhancement of labor migration provides a rationale for not paying enough attention to rural development and human resource development at the village level. 
Disruption of morality and penetration of materialism: A staff of a Thai domestic NGO, the Development and Education Programme for Daughters (DEP)--- which is providing scholarships and vocational training for young women in Northern Thailand---pointed out that the trafficking accelerated the disruption of moralities and the penetration of materialism in the Northern Thai villages. According to the staff, most of villagers have relatives, friends or neighbors working in Japan, including those who are engaged in sex works. They see that some families buy a big house, a television and a brand-new car with remittance from their daughters working in Japan. These "success stories" lure the followers. However, the staff added that although villagers envied those families, they also looked down on the women who came back from Japan.
Physical Abuse: As the personal story of Thai woman who was trafficked to Japan describes, trafficking in women is a serious violation of human rights. Many women are treated like a slave and abused by brokers, employers and customers. A research conducted by a NGO, Human Rights Watch, reported that brokers and employers used physical violence and threats of violence to frighten women into submission. Women are beaten for failing to please their clients, for failing to prevent a co-worker's escape, or for other acts of disobedience. Since women are not allowed to refuse customers, they are often forced to tolerate even the most abusive clients. In addition, many women are forced to work long time.
Slave-like working conditions: According to the Human Rights Watch report, many women have to work seven days a week while in debt, without days off for rest or, in some cases, even for illness. They provide sexual services for two to four clients each night and often perform other tasks as well, including cleaning, washing dishes, serving food and drinks, and entertaining clients by singing or playing games with them at their tables.
Risk to health: Moreover, the women face serious risks to their physical and mental health. These include the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)--including HIV/AIDS--from their clients. Condoms are a common form of birth control in Japan, but it is something to be used with wives. Men feel that since they have paid for the services of a prostitute, they should be able to do whatever they want. Women usually cannot visit a doctor without their employer's approval. Indebted women also lack the funds to pay for exams and medication, and their undocumented immigration status serve to exclude them from most government health care subsidies. 
Additionally, physicians who treat foreign patients in Japan stated that serious mental health problems as a result of the abuses have been major medical problems facing Thai women. In 1994, a staff worker from OASIS, a Japanese women's association, noted that "Japanese authorities reported that twenty Thai girls died in 1993 after working in the snack bars or brothels because of various 'illnesses.' The illnesses were caused by the fact that they were forced to work too hard and because they had no time to rest and no money to see a doctor." 
 Human Rights Watch/Asia Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Division, Owed Justice:Thai Women Trafficked into Debt Bondage in Japan, (Human Rights Watch: New York, 2000), pp49-50.
 Human Rights Watch/Asia, pp50-51.
 Pasuk Phongpaichit, "Trafficking in People," Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja, (Voices of Thai Women 5-10, October, 1997, p167.
 Pasuk Phongpaichit, p165.
 Pasuk Phongpaichit, pp186-187.
 Phongpaichit, p166
 Lin Lean Lim Ed., The Sex Sector: The economic and social bases of prostitution in Southeast Asia (International Labour Office: Geneva), p21.
 Lean Lim, p22.
 Human Rights Watch/Asia, pp 47-57.
 Human Rights Watch/Asia, pp150-154, p191.
 Coalition Against Trafficking in Women - Asia Pacific homepage, [http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/catw/asiapr3.htm]
 "AIDS Counseling--Little Help Available for Foreign AIDS Patients in Japan" (AIDS Weekly Plus, June 8, 1998)
 Phongpaichit, 184.
 Human Rights Watch/Asia, pp100-101.
 Human Rights Watch/Asia, pp105.