Recent Reports 
 Support HRW 
About HRW
Site Map


I. Summary
II. Key Recommendations
III. Context
IV. Profiles
V. International Legal Standards On Trafficking In Women
VI. Recruited In Thailand--Sold On Japan
VII. Servitude In The "Snack Bars"
VIII. Deportation As "Illegal Aliens"
IX. Response Of The Japanese Government
X. Response Of The Thai Government
XI. International Response
XII. Recommendations
  • To the Japanese Government
  • To the Thai Government
  • To the Japanese and Thai Governments
  • To All Governments
  • To Intergovernmental Organizations
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
International Organization For Migration (IOM)
International Labor Organization (ILO)
World Health Organization (WHO)
Human Rights Watch OWED JUSTICE
Thai Women Trafficked into Debt Bondage in Japan

Human Rights Watch
New York Washington London Brussels
Copyright September 2000 by Human Rights Watch.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the Unted States of America.
ISBN 1-56432-252-1
Library of Congress Card Number: 00-107963


The Japanese and Thai governments have an obligation to takes the steps necessary to prevent and punish the trafficking of women from Thailand to Japan and to protect the rights of trafficking victims, ensuring that they have access to redress for the violations they have suffered and preventing further abuses. The two governments should take the specific measures set out below and in doing so should coordinate their responses to ensure that the trafficking of women, and the further human rights abuses which take place in that context, are swiftly and effectively addressed. The international community can also play an important role in setting appropriate standards for states' response to trafficking in women, and in encouraging the Japanese and Thai governments to implement these standards. The final chapter of this report provides a more detailed discussion of Human Rights Watch's recommendations to the Japanese and Thai governments, coupled with recommendations to other actors in the international community.

To the Japanese Government

Women trafficked from Thailand to Japan face egregious violations of their basic human rights, and urgent, concrete steps are needed both to reduce their vulnerability to such abuses and to encourage them to seek assistance, protection, and an effective remedy from Japanese law enforcement officials when their rights are violated. Trafficked women must be exempted from penalty for any activities resulting from their being trafficked. They must have the opportunity to seek remedies and redress for the human rights violations they have suffered, including compensation for damages, unpaid wages, and restitution. Their repatriation must be carried out in a safe and humane manner that does not interfere with their ability to seek redress. They must be protected from further violations of their rights and be afforded access to medical care, shelter, and other services as needed. Such steps are necessary to remedy the abuses trafficked women have suffered and to protect them from further traumatization. These measures are also crucial for facilitating the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, thus ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice and punished, and to deter further abuses.

  1. Actively investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of trafficking in persons and/or servitude, imposing penalties appropriate for punishing the grave nature of the slavery-like abuses involved and for deterring further such abuses. Take measures to ensure that the undocumented immigration status of trafficking victims does not impede investigation or prosecution of labor law violations and other offenses.
  2. Amend laws, including the immigration law, to exempt victims of trafficking and/or servitude from being prosecuted or otherwise punished for any crimes or illegal status that have resulted directly from these practices. While repatriation may be appropriate, punitive measures, including detention pending deportation, should be waived.
  3. Guarantee victims of trafficking and/or servitude access to redress for abuses they have suffered, facilitating their ability to seek compensation for damages, withheld wages, and restitution.
  4. Protect the safety of victims of trafficking and/or servitude with measures that include strong witness protection provisions and opportunities to seek asylum.
  5. Ensure that victims of trafficking and/or servitude have access to essential public services, including appropriate shelter and medical care.
  6. Amend detention and trial procedures in both the criminal justice system and the immigration control system to ensure that the rights of detainees, as established by international human rights guidelines, are upheld. Facilitate independent monitoring of procedures and conditions, and thoroughly and promptly investigate all allegations of misconduct.
  7. Ratify relevant international conventions, including the Slavery Convention; the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery; ILO Convention concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour, no. 105; and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

To the Thai Government

The Thai government also has a responsibility to protect women in Thailand from trafficking and other human rights violations commonly endured during their migration to Japan. To reduce women's vulnerability to such abuses, the Thai government should strive to improve women's educational and employment opportunities in Thailand, and help prepare women for employment abroad by providing useful information about overseas employment opportunities and about services available to women in destination countries. In addition, Thai officials stationed in Japan, including the Thai Labor Attache, must actively defend the labor rights of all migrant workers, irrespective of their immigration status, without discrimination based on sex or occupation. Thailand must also address the widespread problem of "statelessness" among hilltribe and refugee populations in the country. Steps should be taken to facilitate such persons' access to citizenship, and to ensure that all victims of trafficking from Thailand are able return to their homes in Thailand, even when they cannot produce proof of Thai nationality. Finally, one human right cannot be traded for another: efforts to combat trafficking must not discriminate against women and must be consistent with the protection of women's right to freedom of movement and travel.

1. Expand and improve the services available to women trafficked from Thailand to Japan, so as to facilitate their access to compensation and redress in Japan, guarantee their safe repatriation, and ensure that they have access to appropriate social services upon their return to Thailand.

2. Improve law enforcement efforts to prevent and punish the trafficking of persons out of Thailand, including efforts to crack down on official complicity in such crimes.

3. Take steps to reduce women and girls' vulnerability to trafficking by expanding their education and employment opportunities in Thailand and empowering them to protect their rights as workers overseas.

4. Protect women's right to freedom of movement, including international travel.

5. Take steps to address the particular vulnerability of hilltribe and refugee women to trafficking and to facilitate their safe repatriation when trafficking abuses occur.

6. Ratify relevant international conventions, including the Slavery Convention; the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery; the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees; the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees; the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness; and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Remove reservations from Article 7 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, thereby recognizing the right of all children to be registered immediately after birth and to acquire a nationality.

To the Japanese and Thai Governments

Bilateral cooperation is vital to prevent trafficking in persons and respond appropriately to the rights and needs of victims. Though representatives of the Thai and Japanese governments have come together to discuss this problem, they have yet to design or implement concrete bilateral measures to address it. We urge them to:

1. Discuss and implement concrete measures to reduce migrant Thai women's vulnerability to labor exploitation in Japan. Such measures could include expanding the opportunities for legal labor migration by women from Thailand to Japan, and conducting awareness-raising activities for migrant Thai women in both Thailand and Japan.

2. Work cooperatively--and in coordination with relevant Japanese and Thai nongovernmental organizations--to ensure the safe and humane repatriation of victims of trafficking, servitude, and other abuses.

3. Establish a monitoring body, with the financial support of both governments, to assess the cross-border trafficking situation; identify loopholes in existing laws; make recommendations for coordinating government policies to enhance access to services for victims of trafficking and improve the effectiveness of law enforcement efforts; and monitor and publicly report on the implementation of such policies. This body should include representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Japanese and Thai governments, and should seek input from relevant intergovernmental organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration and the International Labour Organization. The monitoring body should prepare a joint operational plan that both governments are committed to implementing within a reasonable, designated period of time.