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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


In this chapter, Human Rights Watch profiles four women who were trafficked from Thailand into servitude in Japan. Human Rights Watch interviewed numerous women who recounted similar experiences, and in the chapters that follow, we describe and analyze the common patterns and abuses that emerged through our research. Yet, to fully relay the gravity of this issue, and its impact on the women affected, we can do no better than to begin by repeating here the stories of individual women, as told to Human Rights Watch. In these testimonies, women describe their experiences from the time of their recruitment in Thailand through their release--or escape--from debt bondage in Japan. While each woman's story is unique, their testimonies are typical of many others gathered by Human Rights Watch. They also reflect some of the key variations we noted in women's accounts.


Pot was recruited to work in Japan in 1990 when she was twenty-seven years old.

A friend I knew from the market in Nakhon Sawan told me about the opportunity to work in factories in Japan. I had divorced my Thai husband when I was four months pregnant and now my son was three years old and I had to raise him by myself and was finding it difficult to make enough money. My parents asked me not to go, but I thought if I went for just one year I could make money for my family and son. I didn't realize what kind of work I was going to do until I was on my way to Japan, and I didn't realize I was in debt for 380 bai [3.8 million yen; US$26,000](2) until I arrived at the snack.(3) I was told by the recruiters in Thailand that I would work in a factory and would get fifty percent of my salary until my debt was paid off.  I was angry and freaked out about my situation.

After describing the good job opportunities in Japan, Pot's friend introduced her to an agent in Bangkok who made the arrangements for her travel. First, he helped her obtain her travel documents. She applied for and received her own passport, but the agent took care of all of the paperwork and negotiations with the officials. Then he took Pot to get her Japanese visa. "The agent told me to go to a certain window at the visa section at the Japanese Embassy. I got my visa without anyone asking me any questions or having to talk at all because the agent filled out all the forms for me." The agent also gave Pot money for clothing, but Pot sent most of it to her family instead. The day Pot's visa arrived, the agent put her in a hotel room at the Central Hotel in the Ladprao area of Bangkok and would not let her go out. Pot recalled:

It was a big room and four or five other women going to work in Japan were also kept there. I was surprised to be locked up because I was not allowed any chance to say goodbye to my family, even over the phone. I heard the agents talking about the price for each woman being between 150-160 bai [1.5-1.6 million yen; US$10,000-11,000], but I couldn't really understand what they were talking about and did not realize that we were being sold into prostitution. I was feeling suspicious but still wasn't clear about what was going on. I stayed at the hotel for several days. During that time, I saw that if a woman did not get approved for a Japanese visa, then the agent exchanged her real passport for a false one.

Two weeks after her initial decision to go to Japan, Pot was put on a flight to South Korea with four other women from the hotel room and a Thai man nicknamed Dee. Dee told them which immigration officer to go to at the airport. "In hindsight I believe that the immigration officer at Don Muang airport in Bangkok knew what I was going to do in Japan better than I did at the time, as the officer was buddy-buddy with my escort and just kept smiling at me and the other Thai women as he stamped our passports." When Pot got to South Korea she was put in a room with fifty other Thai women and seven or eight men. "Most of the women were under twenty years old and from the north of Thailand. All fifty women were guarded, controlled, and watched by the men at all times. I knew that there was something wrong and began talking to the other Thai women there. This is where I learned that all of the women were going to work in prostitution, because some of the women had worked in prostitution before and knew that they were going to do so in Japan. I didn't know what to do. I just thought that once I got to Japan I would change my job immediately."

All fifty Thai women were put on the same flight to Narita airport, just outside Tokyo. The men who were accompanying them went through immigration control first, and then waited near the immigration officers to give explanations when needed. A few of the women were not allowed into Japan, but most were. From the airport, Dee put Pot and several of the other Thai women into a van with a Khmer woman named Chan, who was from one of the refugee camps close to the Thai border with Cambodia. Chan brought the women to Tokyo, and spent the next five days taking them to different places around the city. "Chan was trying to sell me and the others like cattle. Then, on the fifth day, a Thai woman bought me and took me to another woman named Chan in Ibaraki prefecture who paid 380 bai [3.8 million yen; US$26,000] for me. I had known since Korea that I was being sold as a prostitute, but I didn't realize until I got to the snack that this 380 bai that I was bought for was to be my debt."

There were ten to twenty women working at the snack at any given time. Pot worked there for nearly three months and then was sent--still in debt--to another city in Ibaraki to work as a telephone service girl.(4) After two months there, she was sent back to the snack bar where she worked for another three months.

In all, I worked for eight months to pay back my debt and I had calculated that I must have paid it back long ago, but the mama(5) kept lying to me and said she didn't have the same records as I did. During these eight months, I had to take every client that wanted me and had to work everyday, even during my menstruation. The mama also made me and the other women work for her during the day and wouldn't allow us to eat much saying we would get too fat. I was like a skeleton during that time. While I was in "tact" [under contract, or in debt], the mama paid for everything except for my health care and birth control pills. This was all added to my debt.  I tried to keep track of my own records quietly, but I didn't know all the additional expenses that the mama was adding to my debt. And I did not want the mama to know I was keeping track for fear that she would get angry.

While she was in debt, Pot worried about her family back in Thailand. "I did not have any money to send home unless a client gave me a good tip. I just wanted to pay off my debt and get enough money to go home. But the mama was always swearing at me for saving money. The mama threatened me, saying that if I made any trouble she'd sell me again and double my debt. During the first three months I was never allowed out of the apartment except with the mama or a client. Even after three months I was allowed out only along with others and was warned not to make any friends." Some of the clients were abusive too. "Once a Yakuza member took me out for the night.  He brought me to a hotel room and first injected himself with heroin and then tried to force me to inject. I refused and struggled.  He beat me until I was almost dead.  Then he took a rubber band out and strapped it around my arm and was just about to inject me when he passed out. I tried to move and after some time was able to get out of the hotel and fled back to my apartment. I didn't dare tell anybody what happened or seek medical help for my injuries."

Despite the terrible conditions, Pot did not try to escape. "When the Japanese police came around I knew that I had overstayed my visa and that the mama had my passport. I never dared to run away or even considered running to the police without my documents.  Without my documents I was sure I would be arrested and jailed. . . . I tried to be cooperative with the mama and not make any troubles for myself." After paying off her debt, Pot continued to work at the snack bar for another year, trying to save enough money to return home. While she was working there, she met a man who asked her to marry him, and she agreed. When they went to register the marriage, the official resisted. "The provincial official asked me how I could register as an 'overstayer.' I had already found out how it was done so I explained it to him. Then the official claimed my documents were fake. I explained that if they were fake, I would not have tried to come here to register legally." Eventually, she and her husband were successful.


Kaew lives in a village in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand. She has three sons and was married to an abusive husband, who drank too much and was either unable or unwilling to work. In May 1992, Kaew went to Japan on a ninety day tourist visa, hoping to earn enough money to care for her children. "I had three kids, my husband drank, and we had no money," Kaew explained, "so I had to do something." Several years earlier, Kaew had traveled to southern Thailand, to the city of Hat Yai in Songkhla province, to work as a sex worker. "I went back and forth several times trying to make money, leaving my children with my mother." Next she tried working in Singapore. She met a man there who asked her to move in with him, but he did not give her enough money to send home to her children, so she left and returned to her village. Again, she tried to reconcile with her husband, but he was still violent and drinking heavily. Finally, she left him, and moved into her parents' house with her children. A few months later, someone in the village asked her if she wanted to go to Japan, and she agreed. That person told her about an agent in Bangkok.

When she arrived in Bangkok, she was taken to an apartment with about thirty other women from northern and northeastern Thailand. They were all told to undress, and a woman examined their busts, stomachs, hips, and vaginas. Kaew was thirty-one years old, well above the average age of new recruits for the Japanese sex industry. But she looked young, and "the agent in Bangkok decided I was beautiful enough to go to Japan, though I had to get a nose job first and they kept messing it up; they had to do it four times to get it right. The agent wanted me to get my eyes done too, but I refused. Other women got plastic surgery for their breasts, eyes, or other body parts. Women who were not beautiful enough were given a bus ticket home to their village."

Kaew was given 100 baht (US$4) a day while she waited in Bangkok with other women who were going to Japan. She waited in Bangkok for seven months because the agent used her to get passports and visas for the other girls.

They used me because I was older, so it was easier for me. I got five passports for other women--each time getting married to change my surname. If I think about it now, [the agents] were very, very clever. They could even make birth certificates; they could do everything. They were so clever, and in Japan [the brokers] are even more clever.

After seven months, I threatened to go home because I wasn't making any money, so they sent me to Japan. My escort was a Western man named Gary. He took the women to Japan one-by-one. He had many passports and worked with the airline. He had a visa that allowed him to go back and forth between Japan and Thailand through his banana business. He was handsome and dressed up and spoke Thai. I told the immigration officials that I was going to visit a banana factory in Japan to see how it worked and I had a letter from the company in Thailand. Gary had 150 bai [1.5 million yen; US$12,000] with him. Gary and I were separated by the immigration officers at the airport and asked questions about the company, but we had prepared before. I had practiced for two or three nights before I left, and learned to write my new name in English.

At Narita airport, someone was waiting for me and took the clothes and jewelry that they had given me to wear. The person took me to the mama's house in Tokyo. There were lots of women there and people came to choose women and buy them. I was bought on the third day, and told that my price was 380 bai [3.8 million yen; US$30,000]. After three or four days of working at the snack bar, I realized how much 380 bai was.

Kaew explained that she had understood there would be some debt for the airplane ticket and other expenses, but she had never been told how high her debt would be, and she was shocked at the amount. "The other girls said to me, 'that's a lot of debt and you're old; you'll never pay it off.' Then I prayed that it would only take six or seven months to pay it off, and I went with all of the clients I could. . . . The mama said to me, 'don't let your period come, or you'll never finish paying your debt.'" So Kaew also took contraceptive pills daily, though she had been sterilized at age twenty-one, so that she would not menstruate and could work every day.(7) She got her mother to send the pills from Thailand, so that she would not have to buy them from her mama and increase the level of her debt.

The boss would tell me to go with a man, and I couldn't refuse. Girls were beaten if they didn't agree, and the owner was close to the Yakuza so he knew how to fight. Women were also fined for coming back late, fighting with each other, or not agreeing to sit with a client, so I did what I was told. Other women were beaten so badly they had to take days off; I wasn't beaten or given fines because I obeyed.

Some clients were good, and some were abusive. . . . I had up to three clients a night because I needed to pay off my debt, and after six months the mama said I had paid off 250 bai [2.5 million yen; US$20,000]. I kept track in a notebook and this sounded about right--I was paying back about 40 or 50 bai [400,000-500,000 yen; US$3000-4000] per month, and I could have paid off the rest of the debt soon. But while I was working, I met a man who was a friend of the owner. He came to the snack bar often, but he never took women out, he just talked to them. I had to talk to him, and at first I was upset because I knew he wasn't going to pay to take me out, but then he gave me tips just to sit and talk. He told the owner that he liked me and asked to buy out my contract, and the owner agreed since it was his friend. Usually, they didn't allow men to buy women out.

So he paid the 130 bai [1.3 million yen; US$10,000] that I owed and set me up in an apartment. He gave me money, and I also continued to work at the same snack bar, but I wasn't in debt so I earned money. Women working without debt still had to go with a customer if he picked her out, but I didn't have to try flirting and all anymore because I wasn't so worried about money. On Tuesdays, I spent the day with my boyfriend, and the other days I worked. I continued to work there for almost two years after my debt was paid, and then I was arrested.

Kaew's snack bar was in Nagano prefecture, about three hours west of Tokyo by train.

All of the local police came to the snack bar, just like in Thailand, and they were very nice--there were no problems. But then police came from Tokyo. They were cleaning up in preparation for the Olympics in Nagano, and an undercover police officer from Tokyo came to the snack bar. She said she was a tour operator from Tokyo--there were a lot of tours from Tokyo--and that she wanted to see the women. When the women lined up, the officer took out her ID and arrested us all. I always kept 10 bai [100,000 yen; US$980(8)] in my pocket to pay for my ticket to Thailand in case I was arrested and deported, so I had that with me. I also had my passport--the mama had kept it while I was in debt, but after my contract was paid I carried it at all times. I gave my money and passport to the officer, and she let me get my stuff, and then I was taken to jail [an immigration detention facility in Tokyo]. Five days later I returned to Thailand. I didn't have to stay long because I had my passport and enough money for the trip home. . . . When I left, I just got onto the plane like other passengers. There were twenty-four of us arrested together at the snack bar, and we were sent back to Thailand in groups of three or four.

Now Kaew is back in her village in Thailand. She worries that her sons are embarrassed about the work she did while they were growing up.

Whenever I think too much, I get sad. But then I remember when I could only feed my children rice and soup. My husband didn't help, so my kids had to stay with my mother while I went to earn money. That guy was physically abusive too. He would come home drunk and beat me. I tried to work it out with him. But things never changed. The oldest son knows everything I did. He remembers before, knows the choices I've made. I worry that my children will be embarrassed by me, by the fact that I was a prostitute. But I tell my kids: "I had many men on my chest and I cried, but I closed my eyes and thought of my kids." I don't know if they really listen or if it's in one ear and out the other.

Asked what she would say to other women who wanted to go to Japan, Kaew replied,

It's all good luck or not. It was good luck that I had a good snack bar, and bad luck that I got arrested, and good luck that I found a good boyfriend. If you talk to different women, you will get very different stories. Some women start to gamble, spend their money on hosts, and drink. It gets difficult to remember why you're there, for the young especially. Some are less obedient than me, so they have problems. The snack bar next door to me was run by the Yakuza so it was worse. Some women are killed or followed if they escape, or even if they are arrested. Some are followed to Thailand, so many don't go back to their families right away, but wait. Now I want to go back to Japan to visit, but only legally. When I was in Japan, I had no rights because the job was illegal. I'd like to go back to see, independently. I'm trying to go legally, with a passport, so that I'm allowed to be there.


Chan grew up in the province of Korat (now called Nakhon Ratchasima), in northeast Thailand. She went to school through the eighth grade, but was unable to find a job with a decent salary, so she eventually decided to go to Japan. Chan was twenty-three years old at the time. She had known the recruiters for a long time through her aunt, and, with their help, Chan applied for her passport and a Japanese visa. She told the Japanese Embassy that she was a nurse and was going to stay with a family in Japan who had lived previously in Thailand. Then the recruiter introduced Chan to the agent, who paid the recruiter 30,000 baht (US$1,200). The agent told Chan that her debt would be about 800,000 baht (US$32,000), but that she would be able to pay it back in about three months.

Chan left for Japan in December 1993. The week before she left, she stayed with the agent in the Ladprao area of Bangkok, where she met other Thai women who were also going to Japan. Chan was escorted to Japan by a Thai woman, and after they passed through immigration at Narita airport, this woman introduced her to a broker. The broker took Chan to a snack bar in Chiba prefecture; the mama was a Thai woman and her husband was a Japanese man with Yakuza connections. Chan said that the mama was very strict. "Although I knew about the debt before I left," she explained, "I was lied to about the conditions and the fact that I would have to pay extra for everything and have it added to my debt."

Chan was housed in an apartment with three other Thai women. The mama, who lived in the same building, confiscated Chan's passport and return plane ticket to Thailand. Every night the women had to be ready for the van that came to pick them up at 7 p.m., and then they worked until 2 a.m. They were expected to help with the running of the snack bar, entertaining guests and serving clients, and they were not given any days off. "We weren't exactly forced to take clients, but we were pressured and if we didn't cooperate our life could be made very difficult. So, everyone learned to do as they were instructed. I had to take clients from the first day. I had never done this type of work before and had to serve about three or four clients every night. The mama told us we had to work hard to pay off our debts within five months or she would sell us again. We were forced to take birth control pills with no days off, so I never had my period." Each month, 100,000 yen (US$980(10)) was added to Chan's debt for her expenses. She knew this included 30,000 yen (US$290) per month for housing, but she did not know how the rest of the money was divided. Chan was also penalized if her weight exceeded fifty-four kilograms (119 pounds), and once a month, the women were tested for AIDS and charged 10,000 yen (US$100) for the test. Once, while Chan was working, immigration officers raided the snack bar. But a telephone call received just before the raid warned those there so that most of the women, including Chan, were able to run out; the others, however, were arrested.

After Chan had been at the snack bar for two months a client showed her where the Thai Embassy was and explained how she could escape. Chan went into the embassy to begin the process of preparing her documents to return home, but she did not dare escape then, because she did not want to get the client in trouble. About a month later, another client left Chan to take a taxi back to her apartment. Instead, she took the taxi to Tokyo and surrendered herself to the Japanese immigration authorities. The next day, Chan went to the Thai Embassy, where officials called her snack bar, demanding Chan's passport and money for her return trip home.

Chan was deported in February 1994. After she got back to Thailand, an agent followed her to her home in Korat, asking for the rest of the debt. "I was afraid so I left my family's home and came to Bangkok. I am still afraid that they are following me even though one year has passed. I am afraid that if they catch up with me they will kill me. I heard in Japan that that is what they do to those who don't repay their debt. I know that is why very few women dare to escape. Everyone I knew stayed and finished their debt. But I couldn't stay in Japan because I don't like to be bossed around."


Nuch is the youngest of four children. She went to school until she was twelve years old, finishing the fourth grade, and then went to work as a farmhand for about 30 baht (US$1.20) per day. When she was fifteen years old she went to Bangkok to work as a maid, earning 400 baht (US$16) per month. She returned to her village after only a month because she was homesick, but over the next twelve years she went back and forth to Bangkok several times looking for work. She spent two weeks there selling Thai sweets, several months working as a nanny, three years working in a shop, and three months sharpening knives. During her last trip to Bangkok, she spent a month working as a maid, and then got a job at a diamond shop. After two years there, her salary had reached 3,500 baht (US$140) per month, with four days off each month.

While she was working at the diamond shop in 1992, an acquaintance told her that she should go to work in Japan and introduced her to a dress-maker, who then brought Nuch to an agent. "The agent told me she could find a job for me in a Thai restaurant in Japan and that I could make several tens of thousands a month. The agent agreed to pay for all of my expenses, saying that I could pay her back once in Japan." Then Nuch met another agent, an older Thai man named Lek. He explained that she would have to pay back 380 bai (3.8 million yen; US$30,000), and she agreed. "I didn't know anything about exchange rates or different currencies so I didn't know how much [380 bai] was, but it didn't sound like a lot. I asked him how long it would take me to pay it back, and the agent said five months." Nuch and her roommate decided to go to Japan together. Nuch's roommate was only eighteen years old, and she didn't want to ask her parents for permission to go to Japan so she had to use a false passport.(12) Nuch was twenty-seven years old at the time, so the agent took her to get her real passport. Then Lek and his wife took Nuch to get her Japanese visa. She told the embassy officials that she was going on holiday, and a week later she received her visa.

Nuch left for Japan on March 26, 1992. Lek's wife went with her. "I didn't carry my own passport to go through Thai immigration. The wife gave both of our passports to immigration and talked to them. I arrived in Japan at night. At Narita airport immigration, the wife told me to go to a specific line and she went in another one. She went through first and then came to help me. The wife spoke Japanese and got me through. Then we took a taxi to a hotel in Tokyo. The wife told me I would work at a Thai restaurant that belonged to a Thai woman." The next morning, a Japanese man came to the hotel to get Nuch and took her to an apartment in Tokyo. There were three or four other Thai women at the apartment, and many Thai men as well. Everyone slept in the same room, and Nuch was told that a Thai woman named Ice was the 'boss.' "Ice told me I was to stay here and that I shouldn't speak Thai outside the apartment. Ice told me I couldn't escape and not to even try."

Nuch stayed in the apartment for two days without going out and did not talk to anyone. She thought it was strange that the women worked all night, but she did not ask any questions. After two nights, Nuch was told to pack up her things and get dressed. Two other Thai women were told to do the same. "Another woman took the three of us. We traveled all day by train. Once off the train, I was separated from the others and brought straight to a snack bar. I was very cold because I had no winter clothes. The snack bar was very small and had only four other Thai women there. They worked and slept at the snack shop. The mama was a Taiwanese woman." Nuch stayed there for two nights, and nobody came to the restaurant. She still did not understand that she was to work as a prostitute.

After two days, the Japanese man who had picked her up at the hotel in Tokyo the morning after she arrived in Japan came to the snack bar to get her. During the next two weeks, this man took Nuch to different apartments and restaurants. Nuch said she was not forced to stay with him, but she had no passport or money, nor any idea where else to go. Finally, Nuch was taken to a snack bar that was owned by a Thai woman and her Japanese husband, a member of the Yakuza. The other Thai women at the snack bar told Nuch that she would have to prostitute herself. "They told me there was no way out and I would just have to accept my fate. The snack bar had many customers who I saw drinking alcohol and singing. I was told I had to go to sit with them. I knew then what had happened to me. That first night I had to take several men, and after that I had to have at least one client every night." Nuch said that the mama didn't actually "force" her to take clients, but she found clients for her, and Nuch always accepted them because she did not think she could refuse. During her time at the snack bar, Nuch never saw a doctor, nor received any health check-ups.

Nuch did not keep track of her debt. The mama bought her clothing, birth control pills, and medicine when she was sick, and added these expenses to her debt, but did not tell Nuch how much was added. After two months, the mama told Nuch she had paid off 20 bai (200,000 yen; US$1600). Around that time, Nuch went out one day with a male Thai acquaintance. When she returned, the mama told her to get her bags packed. The same Japanese man that had picked Nuch up at the hotel in Tokyo and then eventually taken her to this snack bar, came to get her and brought her to Tokyo to see Ice.

When I first got to the apartment a Thai man slapped my face and said 'they told you not to meet other Thai.' Then Ice took me into another room. There Ice beat me, mostly by kicking me everywhere, while I sat in a chair. Ice beat me for over an hour saying 'I told you not to speak to any Thai.' I couldn't fight back because there were many men outside the room. When Ice finished she took a visa photo of me and forced me to write a contract. I said I couldn't write, but Ice forced me to write the contract by telling me each letter in Thai. I was forced to write that 'if I try to escape again, I agree to be killed,' and then Ice forced me to sign it. Then Ice photocopied it and said she would give a copy to the next mama I was sent to work for. Ice then asked me, 'do you want to go into a brothel where you'll never come out or pay back a debt of 700 bai [7 million yen; US$55,000]. I didn't know what a brothel was, but it didn't sound good so I agreed to having my original debt doubled.

Ice sent Nuch to work at another snack bar, where she worked for the next seven months. This time she kept better track of how much she earned. "I had to take all the clients that were introduced to me and was never given a day off. I was given birth control and charged 1,000 yen [US$8] per month. The only money I ever had was the tip money I saved. With the tip money, I had to buy my own food, except for rice, with the other women." While Nuch worked at this snack bar, the mama took her and the other women to a hospital for blood tests on two occasions. The first time, the mama talked to the doctor and told Nuch that there was no problem. The second time, one of the other Thai woman from Nuch's snack bar, who had been working their long and could speak a lot of Japanese, heard the doctor tell the mama that Nuch was blood positive. "The Thai woman told me that blood positive just means that you have to get some injections. The mama told me 'never mind, it's a minor problem.' The mama never took me to see the doctor again."

A few weeks later, Nuch was taken to a house in Nagano to have her blood checked again, and then she was taken to see Ice. Ice threw away Nuch's house registration, letters from her mother, and any other papers or documents she found. Then she gave Nuch her passport with a new visa saying she had just arrived in Japan. Two days later, Nuch was taken to a snack bar in Niigata prefecture. The mama there was Taiwanese and had a Japanese husband and two teen-age daughters. Ice reminded Nuch not to tell anyone that she had ever been to Japan before and told her to not to tell anyone, especially the clients, that she was Thai. The other Thai women working at this snack bar explained to Nuch that Japanese men do not like Thai women because they think they have AIDS. Nuch was told that her debt was 380 bai (3.8 million yen; US$30,000).

Nuch described this snack bar as "very strict." "Once I slipped and said I was from Thailand. The client asked the mama if it was true that I was from Thailand. It was a big problem. The mama's daughter slapped me, and the Japanese husband of the mama told me, 'if you tell another person you are Thai again you will have a name, but no body.' This meant he would kill me and only my name would be left. The mama's daughter slapped me again another time, when I was told to serve a very rude, drunk and dirty client whom I had been forced to have sex with several times before and couldn't stand it. She slapped me because I wasn't eager enough to take this particular client."

Nuch lived above the snack bar with the seven other Thai women who worked at the snack bar. "We were watched at all times. When we had to go out with clients, the mama hired taxis to wait for us at the hotel and bring the women back. There was never any chance to escape." They also worked extremely long hours, without any days off. "We worked at the snack bar from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., and at 9 a.m. we were woken up to clean the house and the snack bar before lunch. After lunch we worked in the field out behind the snack bar until dinner. We were given birth control pills and told not to take the white pills (for the week to have a period). So we never had our periods while working there. We worked and took clients everyday."

A few weeks after Nuch began working there, the mama found out that Nuch had been in Japan before. "I asked another Thai woman to help me write a letter to send to my mother. It had been a long time since I had written to my mother. I had never told my mother what I was forced to deal with or the details of my life. I just wanted to tell my mother that I was well and everything was okay. But, while I was telling the other Thai woman what to write, I slipped and said 'sorry I haven't written to you for a long time. I have moved to another restaurant.' The Thai woman who was transcribing the letter asked me for more details. I told her then that I got sick and my blood was positive. Then this Thai woman went and told the mama--to get some extra points by telling on me." The mama and her daughter told Nuch to take off her clothes and checked her for sores. Then they told her she would have to work extra hard in order to pay off her debt quickly, and the mama told the cashier to give Nuch a lot of clients.

So Nuch continued to work and after three months had paid off about 100 bai (1 million yen; US$8000(13)). Two of the Thai women at the snack bar had been there nearly two years and had not yet finished paying back their debts. Another Thai woman had been there one and a half years and was also still paying back her debt. Nuch was never taken to see a doctor, and while the snack bar provided condoms and told the clients to use them, they seldom did. "In all my time in Japan only about ten clients ever used condoms and even then they broke a couple of times. I did not know about AIDS then or what 'blood positive' meant."

After about three months, a group of five Japanese men came into the snack bar. They appeared much neater than the usual clients. These men asked Nuch where she was from in Japanese, and she told them she was from Malaysia. Then they asked her something in Malaysian, but she could not answer. The five men came to the snack bar on three different occasions, and then one morning, the police came to arrest the women. "They asked me and the others in Thai if we wanted to go home, and if so to get our clothes.  Only myself and one other woman got our clothes. Everyone was arrested, the mama, her husband, the two Taiwanese friends, and the seven Thai women. One Thai woman had just finished off her debt after two years and was about to be paid for the first time for twenty clients. She was especially upset."

Nuch was taken to a police station and questioned. The police told her they would help her to get home, but instead she was detained for the next several months in solitary confinement, though she never understood why. While she was in jail, a doctor tested her blood three times, but did not tell her anything. Eventually, Nuch was transferred to an immigration detention center, where she was held until the Thai Embassy issued her travel documents. In March 1993, Nuch went to the airport with the Japanese immigration officers and ten other Thai nationals. Upon arrival at Don Muang airport in Bangkok, the ten Thais were taken to the immigration office in the airport. Nuch was taken to a shelter where she has been living ever since. She understands now that she has HIV/AIDS.


1. Human Rights Watch and FOWIA interview, Ibaraki prefecture, Japan, June 1, 1995.

To protect the identities of the women victims of trafficking, each has been assigned a randomly selected name which is used consistently throughout the report. While Human Rights Watch generally refers to interviewees by their first and last names, in this case we have chosen to follow the Thai custom of using nicknames.

2. Here and below, to convert Japanese yen into U.S. dollars, we use the average exchange rate for the relevant year and then round off. Where the year cannot be easily determined from the context, a footnote will specify which year's average rate was used.

3. Snack bars, often referred to simply as "snacks," will be described in greater detail in the next chapter. In brief, they are common venues where Japanese go for relaxation and conversation. Many do not involve sexual exchanges, but in the establishments women referred to as "dating" snack bars, clients are allowed take the hostesses out of the bar for sexual services.

4. Working for a telephone service is similar to working in a 'dating' snack bar, except that customers arrange 'dates' by telephone, rather than at a bar.

5. Managers at the snack bars are typically women referred to as "mama" or "mama-san" by the hostesses.

6. Human Rights Watch and FOWIA interviews, Chiang Rai province, Thailand, September 13, 1997, October 4, 1997, and April 25, 1999.

7. The pills were designed to be taken in twenty-eight day cycles, with twenty-one days of pills followed by seven days off (or seven days of placebos) to allow for menstruation. Contraceptive pills, or oral contraceptives, are designed to prevent pregnancy and/or regulate menstruation. They are not designed to prevent menstruation.

8. This U.S. dollar amount was calculated using the average yen-dollar exchange rate in 1994.

9. Human Rights Watch and FOWIA interview, Bangkok, Thailand, March 2, 1995.

10. This U.S. dollar amount was calculated using the average yen-dollar exchange rate in 1994.

11. Human Rights Watch and FOWIA interview, Bangkok, Thailand, March 3, 1995 and March 26, 1995.

12. Persons under twenty years old must have their parents' permission to get a passport in Thailand.

13. This U.S. dollar amount was calculated using the average yen-dollar exchange rate in 1992.