Interviews with Social Justice Advocates

Vol.3 A Team of Passionate Lawyers Dedicated to Saving Human Trafficking Victims ~Ms. Ryoko Minagawa, Attorney / Executive Director, Lawyers for Trafficked Victims: LTV ~

The person I am interested in interviewing is the attorney Ryoko Minagawa, the Executive Director of “Lawyers for Trafficked Victims.” It’s incredibly reassuring to know that there is a legal team in this country that works for trafficking victims. I imagined she would be extremely busy, so I didn’t expect her to have time for us. However, when I asked her, she kindly agreed to be interviewed.

“Lawyers for Trafficked Victims” has been Active Since 2015
“Lawyers for Trafficked Victims (LTV)” was established following a seminar held in March 2013. In this seminar for legal professionals, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the NPO Polaris Project Japan (which was actively helping and supporting victims of sex trafficking at the time), attorney Yoko Yoshida of JNATIP (Japan Network Against Trafficking in Persons), and Shoichi Ibusuki, also an attorney involved in human rights issues of foreign technical intern trainees, gave lectures. They informed the audience that there are victims of trafficking in persons in their daily lives and explained the structure and problems of human trafficking. A loose network of volunteer lawyers was formed among the participants, and two years later, they launched LTV. Ms. Minagawa has been serving as the executive director since then.

Currently LTV has 15 members, all of whom are attorneys. Their activities include “consultation,” “representation in legal cases (negotiations and court representation),” “giving lectures,” and “building relationships with counterparts in sending countries.”

Human Trafficking is a Cross-border Crime; therefore, Relationships in Sending Countries is Essential
The reason for taking “sending countries” into consideration is because most of the trafficking victims supported by LTV are foreigners. For example, when a victim is protected in a women’s shelter and needs legal support, she is introduced to LTV through IOM upon her request. Many such victims return home before or during court proceedings. To maintain close contact with these returned victims, collaborations with the local government agencies and NGOs are essential. Therefore, the attorneys of LTV visited Thailand in 2014, the Philippines in 2015, and Cambodia in 2018, to learn about local laws and build relationships with them. I was moved by their passion, as most of these activities were conducted without pay.

Advice Seekers do not Regard Themselves as Trafficking Victims
LTV does not limit its support only to foreign victims. Ms. Minagawa says, “We accept consultations from anyone who might be a victim of human trafficking, regardless of nationality or gender. However, I want to emphasize that no one comes to us thinking they are a ‘trafficking victim.’ Human trafficking is often hidden within various everyday incidents and crimes. Therefore, people involved in public consultation services, investigative agencies like police, as well as we lawyers, prosecutors, and judges, need to learn more about human trafficking.”

A Theme Pursued Consistently Since Student Days
Going back to her own story, it was inevitable that Ms. Minagawa participated in the seminar in 2013. This is because she was deeply shocked by the book “Children for Sale: The Cry of Innocence” by Maki Okubo, which she read shortly after entering university.  She visited shelters for children in the Philippines and was involved in activities to help street children. Her senior thesis was a research paper on “Child Prostitution in Cambodia.” After becoming a lawyer, she continuously questioned and practiced ways she could help solve human trafficking issues as a Japanese lawyer.

In April this year, Ms. Minagawa won a judgment that made her feel “we’ve finally come this far.” It concerned a case in 2016 where seven Cambodian women were forced into prostitution in Ikaho, Gunma Prefecture. In the appeal ruling, the Tokyo High Court finalized a judgment ordering the three perpetrators to pay a total of 7.15 million yen to compensate the damages. What a victory!

The Need for Comprehensive Laws
“It is a positive progress that the claims of trafficking victims have been recognized as they were by the Japanese judiciary. However, it is disappointing that it took so many years. The first trial judgment at the district court level was careless and biased, almost assuming that the victims came to Japan for prostitution,” Ms. Minagawa said, expressing only partial joy. “If the crime of human trafficking was properly applied as a criminal offense, or if Japan had comprehensive laws on human trafficking (laws that include both punishment for criminals and relief for victims), we wouldn’t have had to go through such a long and complicated process.”

While it is the role of Diet members to create laws, it is the responsibility of citizens to generate momentum for such changes. We want to raise awareness more than before that human trafficking exists in our daily lives and to recognize that awareness can lead to solutions. (Nozomi Kuriyama)

Vol. 2 Each one of us has the power to create a better society ~ Ms. Motoko Yamagishi 《Executive Director, Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (SMJ), Member, Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move (J-CaRM)》 ~

Ms. Motoko Yamagishi has been working with the Japan Network Against Trafficking in Persons (JNATIP), of which NFSJ is a member, for the last seven years. As the executive director of SMJ and member of J-CaRM, she has been extremely active supporting foreigners living in Japan, in relation to labor exploitation and sexual exploitation. I have always wanted to know the driving force that motivates her, so I took this opportunity to talk to her at length.

NGO Career started while in the university
Ms. Yamagishi became interested in issues of global poverty and inequality when she was in high school, and went on to study economics at Sophia University to learn about development economics. However, the economics approach didn’t feel right to her, and she developed a desire to use grassroots NGO methods to solve problems, so in her first year she set up the Third World Shop, which deals with fair trade, together with her classmates. She also traveled around Southeast Asia and was involved in various activities. After graduation, she went to work for PARC (Pacific Asia Resource Center). She is an activist at heart, having started her career in the NGO world from her youth.

She then worked as deputy secretary-general from 1997, when SMJ was founded, and also worked for a Catholic Church organization. Although she temporarily stepped away from the frontline to raise her children, she became co-chair of SMJ in her 40s, before becoming executive director on the occasion when SMJ became a Specified Nonprofit Corporation. She plays an important role in both SMJ and the Catholic Church by providing direct support to migrant women and foreign workers who are facing difficulties, including in relation to human trafficking, advocacy to the government and Diet members, and coordinating with related organizations within the network.

The driving force behind her work: the involvement with migrant women’s communities
When asked about the driving force behind her work, one of her answers was her experience of traveling around Asia and meeting foreign workers in Japan since her student days, where she met people from very different cultures and backgrounds, which enriched and transformed her.

Another experience she mentioned was that she was saved by the women of Kalakasan, a support center for migrant women affected by domestic violence, which she set up as one of the founding members. When Ms Yamagishi, who was solo-parenting at the time, took her sons to Kalakasan, the migrant women (single mothers who must have been in even more difficult situations) kindly helped her. The realization that she was saved by a community with different values from Japan empowered her. So she wants to take care of these communities. As someone who has benefited as a Japanese, she wants to help them in any way she can.

Thoughts on the issue of human traffickingWhen asked what she thinks about the issue of human trafficking, Ms. Yamagishi replied that it is “a denial of human dignity”. And in a society where human dignity is denied, all people have the potential to be exploited. That’s why we all have to change it.

What Ms. Yamagishi wants to convey most to the general public is that we can create a better society ourselves. Each and every one of us has the power to change it. She said she wants to convey this especially to young people. Busy as she is, she also teaches at several universities, and when she sees that today’s students are losing their financial stability, she feels that society and politics must do something about it.

I nodded my head in agreement with Ms. Yamagishi’s words, as I too have been thinking about the need to create a society that empowers young people and children, rather than taking away their power. I am very happy to be working with Ms. Yamagishi at JNATIP. (Mariko Yamaoka)

Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (SMJ)
Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move (J-CaRM)
Talitha Kum Japan (J-CaRM’s subdivision on human trafficking issues)

Vol.1 The policy of our activities is “Children take center stage!” ~Ms. Machiko Kaida, Representative Director of NPO Japan International Center for the Rights of the Child (C-Rights)~

In 2022, C-Rights celebrated their 30th anniversary. I would like to share with you the thoughts of Ms. Machiko Kaida and the projects she is currently working on through this campaign.

It all started with a lecture she heard as a college student
The trigger for Ms. Kaida’s long-standing activities related to children’s rights was a lecture by Michiko Inukai when she was a student at Sophia University (1982). She heard a story of a refugee child who had been attacked by pirates and was deeply moved to do something to help refugee children around the world. She then established a UNICEF club at the university and later got a job at the Japan Committee for UNICEF. Ms. Kaida was also influenced by Susan George’s book “How the Other Half Dies.” She thought that it was important to first change awareness in developed countries, so she became involved in development education at the Japan Committee for UNICEF.

Ms.Kaida studied at a graduate school in the UK, and in 1989, just before completing her study abroad, she came across a book called “Broken Promise,” about the Convention on the Rights of the Child which she translated and published. After that, she stayed in Bhutan and India, where she learned much from NGOs working with street children, empowering them as “rights holders”. In 1996, she joined C-Rights, which had been founded in Osaka by her friends from university.

Japanese are buying sex with children in Cambodia!
In December 2001, the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) was held in Yokohama, where Ms. Kaida met a Cambodian girl who had been sexually exploited. She felt outraged that Japanese people were taking advantage of children’s weakness by buying them for sex.

From 2004, Ms. Kaida lived in Cambodia for four years and participated in activities to eliminate child sexual exploitation. She began awareness-raising activities to prevent children from going abroad to work in dangerous places, in order to protect them from sexual perpetrators from developed countries. After that, she learned that there were many children who went to Vietnam to beg. From 2012 to May 2023, she focused on areas known as “begging village” working to prevent human trafficking and child labor.

Letting children know that they have the right to say NO.
When Ms. Kaida returned to Japan from Thailand in 2010, she was surprised to find that the idea of “teaching children their rights will make them selfish” is still deeply rooted in Japan. She is concerned about school rules that do not recognize individuality, young carers who have no one to talk to, children who suffer sexual assault and cry, and children who cannot say no to unpleasant things. She wanted to let children know about their rights and that they have the right to seek advice and say no.

Subsequently in the “Children’s Rights in the World Karuta” (Godo Shuppan, 2022), which she created with her university seminar students, she included messages such as “Please ask for advice” and “You have the right to say no.” She also expressed the right to not have others touch your private parts in the karuta as “Don’t touch me here, this is private.”

It seems that through playing the karuta, children realize that the issues close to them are related to rights. Children also create their own original karuta cards, honestly expressing the frustrations they feel towards adults in their own words. For example, one child wrote, “When you scold us with harsh words, it hurts us deep inside,” and “I’m against violence. Put yourself in the shoes of the victims.” Raising awareness through playing the karuta is currently the most important backbone of C-Rights’ activities.

In addition, Ms. Kaida has given numerous lectures to local governments, boards of education, and principals’ associations, appealing to them to make use of the “Basic Act on the Child” and listen to the voices of children. Let’s all create opportunities for children’s voices to be heard!  (Michiyo Namura)

C-Rights official website:
Facebook page:
“Children’s Rights in the World Karuta ” (Godo Shuppan)
“Children’s Rights for Living Your Life the Way You Are” (KADOKAWA)“30 Ways to Protect Children’s Rights Around the World” (Godo Shuppan)