Global Human Rights Defence

Coercion of Young Women into Pornography and Prostitution in Japan
Girl in school uniform. By: © 戸山 神奈 / Unsplash, 2021

Author : Malina Wiethaus


The commercial sexual exploitation of children remains a serious issue in Japan. Although child prostitution is officially illegal, the dissemination of child abuse material is increasing. Video and photography showing chakuero (English: child erotica) can be bought in stores located in entertainment districts. This material mostly shows girls aged seven to twelve. The dissemination of this material is considered legal since young girls are not shown naked, but rather being shown posing provocatory with a clear focus on their sexual parts (Human Rights Council, 2016). Despite child pornography being illegal, a government survey found 15 percent of Japan’s male population having seen child pornography, while ten percent own child pornography. Furthermore, the study shows that one in ten men have paedophiliac tendencies (Jakeadelstein, 2012). 

Currently, an estimated 170 000 junior high and high school students are engaged in prostitution. Tokyo’s famous red-light district, Kabukicho, is known for joshi kosei (English: “high school girl” business). At night, Kabukicho’s streets fill up with teenagers dressed up in school uniforms. Tokyo has approximately 300 cafes where men pay young girls to talk to them and go on dates with them. The so-called JK Business is divided into different levels, ranging from men paying young girls to hold hands, sleep on their laps, go on walks or take pictures of them. Even though the interactions don’t necessarily lead to sexual contact, the trend is concerning (Campbell, 2019). Furthermore, hyper-sexualisation of young girls takes place in the legal trade in “Lolicon”. Lolicon imageries are manga or anime featuring children in rape, violence, and incest (Campbell, 2019) (Jamie, Padilla, and Chandler, 2020). To analyse the current situation, this article will focus on the origins of this concerning trend, national laws that apply to the cases, efforts to diminish the practices and international standards addressing this issue. 

Causes and Inducements

The Japanese child pornography and prostitution industry thrives on three practices. Firstly, young women are coerced into pornography by fake modelling agents. After forcing contracts on these girls, they get flown to a remote location at which they get bullied into performing sex acts in front of rolling cameras. Unfortunately, this is a common story of how young girls find themselves trapped in this industry (Campbell, 2019). Furthermore, some girls (aged from 12 to 17) find joining the JK business as a well-paid part-time job. The hiring process includes official job advertisements and recruiters. Girls applying for jobs in the JK business industry are often unaware of the consequences and the possibility of falling victim to child prostitution (Human Rights Council, 2016). Moreover, young girls are scouted by JK businesses. JK business scouts are usually in their 20s or 30s, searching for young girls to manipulate into joining the industry. Low self-esteem and low status are what JK scouts look for in young girls (Reith-Banks, 2019).   

The vulnerability of young girls leads them to be coerced into child pornography and prostitution. The first reason young girls are introduced into the industry is their socio-economic status. In Japan, many young girls escape from sexual violence and abuse at home, after which they get stuck in so-called JK businesses themselves (Human Rights Council, 2016). Furthermore, in some shops, young girls can earn up to 880 dollars a day for prostituting themselves. Hence, there is a strong financial incentive for young girls with a weak socio-economic background to join the JK business (Yujie, 2018). 

Historically, the fetishisation of young girls dressed in school uniforms was initially sparked by the 1985 released song “Please don’t take off my school uniform” by the female idol group O-nyanko Club. This song triggered the 1990s trend for buru sera (English: teenage girls selling unwashed underwear and uniforms). This later developed into compensated dating of middle-aged men and teenage girls. The trend of trading financial compensation in return for a sexual relationship got commercialised and diversified, leading to current JK businesses (Reith-Banks, 2019). Today, young women are increasingly sexually commodified online (Human Rights Council, 2016). 

National Laws

According to national laws, child prostitution and child pornography are illegal, however, most practices take place in a legal ‘grey zone’. The Act on the Regulation and Punishment of Acts Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children was originally implemented in 1999. The law was amended in 2014 and finally prohibited the possession of child pornography and thus, made possession punishable. The amendment redefined pornography as “[a]ny pose of a child wholly or partially naked, in which (a) part(s) of the child’s body of sexual interest (genitals, area around the genitals, hips, and chest) are particularly exposed or emphasized, and which arouses or stimulates the viewer’s sexual desire” (Act No. 79, Art. 2(3), 2014).  The punishment for possession of child pornography can lead up to one year in prison or a fine of up to US$10 000 (Act No. 79, Art. 7(1), 2014). Furthermore, the amendment includes the offence of secretly creating child pornography. Prior to the amendment, only pornography that was forcefully created was considered a criminal offence (Act No. 79, Art. 7(5) 2014). However, the Act still lacks important factors. Firstly, the law does not apply to “Lolicon” or any virtually animated pornographic depiction of children or children abuse. This was intentionally not included in the Act since animated pornography has no real child victim, and this addition would possibly harm the freedom of expression (Umeda and Sayuri, 2014). 

Besides this, Japan fails to officially designate children exploited in commercial sex as sex trafficking victims. This insufficient victim identification consequently restricts legal recourse and protection services for the victims (US Department of State, 2021). Victims of sex trafficking must arrive from outside of Japan to be considered one. Hence, national laws contradict the internationally recognised definition of sex trafficking (Campbell, 2019). Internationally, sex trafficking is recognized as a form of modern slavery (National Human Trafficking Hotline, n.d.). Minors involved in commercialization of sex are considered victims of human trafficking, as put forth by the International Labour Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (National Human Trafficking Hotline, n.d.; C182, 1999). Thus, initialising administrative penalties rather than criminal investigations into offenders. Even though, the victims fall under international sex trafficking definitions, they do not fall under Japanese ones. Therefore, offenders do not face criminal investigations in Japan. In 2019, only 25 trafficking victims were identified. Additionally, Japan recognised “544 “children in prostitution”—a form of sex trafficking—among 827 offences during the reporting period, but police did not identify any of them as sex trafficking victims” (US Department of State, 2021). Consequently, children lack legal protection and effective prevention of sex trafficking (Reith-Banks, 2019). 


The Japanese government needs to increase its efforts to reduce child pornography and child prostitution. In 2017, Tokyo issued a municipal ordinance prohibiting minors from working at JK businesses (The Metropolitan Police Department, 2017). In this local ordinance, violators face a penalty of up to a year in prison or a monetary fine of up to one million yen (Yujie, n.d.). National efforts are mirrored in Japan’s child welfare workers. In 2018, the country only had 3 250 child welfare workers, with more than 120 000 child abuse cases to work (Campbell, 2019). Thus, non-governmental actors stepped up to stand up against the sexual commodification of children. 

The Lighthouse is an NGO that aims at eradicating the commercialisation of sex. It protects and supports victims of sexual exploitation, particularly focusing on young people and children (Lighthouse, 2022). Among the 241 cases the NGO received in 2018, they identified 103 as sex trafficking crimes (Montgomery, 2019). Furthermore, the charity Colabo works at preventing the exploitation of young girls by providing basic necessities and consultation to girls at risk. In combination with public awareness workshops, Colabo’s efforts address vulnerable girls who are considered easy targets for JK businesses (Colabo, 2022). The charity reaches most of the vulnerable girls through its pink bus. The pink bus strategically chooses places to help the most vulnerable girls (Reith-Banks, 2019). 

International Standards

Japan has ratified key human rights laws protecting minors from sexual commercialisation. Among others, Japan has ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The Optional Protocol shall ensure that State Party’s take appropriate measures to prohibit the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, as set out in Article 1 (Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Art. 1, 2000). Furthermore, Article 9 addresses the illegality of advertising such offences (Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Art. 9(5), 2000). Japan has failed to implement these Articles correctly. Watching child pornography and child prostitution is yet to become illegal in Japan. Also, JK businesses are hiring children, among other things, through official advertisements and job descriptions. Lastly, only eight Japanese prefectures prohibited minors from working in JK businesses (US Department of State, 2021). 

Japan has also ratified the International Labour Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. By ratifying the Convention, Japan shall take all necessary measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as set out by this Convention. Among others, this includes child trafficking, forced labour, and, respectively, “the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances” (C182, 1999). The State Parties should implement appropriate measures and, after, adopt an appropriate monitoring mechanism (C182, Art. 5, 1999). Japan has yet failed to officially recognise trafficking cases, making it impossible to put in place effective policies addressing the issues surrounding child prostitution and pornography (Campbell, 2019). 


Japan needs to increase its efforts to collect data to fully understand the scope of the problem. Furthermore, it becomes clear that the sexual commodification of children in Japan is yet to be fully prohibited. Legal grey zones are currently hindering the country from banning the sexual exploitation of vulnerable children. As demanded by the Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, the protection of children must be of the highest priority to the country (C182, 1999). 


C182. (1999, June 1). C182 – Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182). ILO. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Campbell, C. (2019, October 29). The Sexual Exploitation of Young Girls in Japan Is “On the Increase,” an Expert Says. Time. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from

Colabo. (2022). What We Do – 一般社団法人Colabo(コラボ). Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Human Rights Council. (2016, March). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography on her visit to Japan (A/HRC/31/58/Add.1).

Jakeadelstein, A. (2012, August 6). Sexnomics: Japan’s 100 Billion Dollar Sex Industry And The Pink Zone. Japan Subculture Research Center. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from

Jamie, A., Padilla, N., & Chandler, E. (2020, August 11). Lolicon and Its Effects on Japanese Society. University of Oregon Scholarsbank. Retrieved February 20, 2022, from

Lighthouse. (2022). ABOUT US – ライトハウスについて. 人身取引被害者サポートセンター Lighthouse. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Montgomery, H. (2019, November 16). Bonnie Jinmon has spent a decade fighting human trafficking: “I want my work to be bigger.” The Japan Times. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

National Human Trafficking Hotline. (n.d.). Sex Trafficking. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from


OHCHR. (2000, May 25). OHCHR | Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Reith-Banks, T. (2020, February 3). Schoolgirls for sale: why Tokyo struggles to stop the “JK business.” The Guardian. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from

The Metropolitan Police Department. (May 15, 2017). JK business wa kiken desu. (JK ジネスは危険です). Retrieved from kurashi/higai/kodomo /jkb_kiken.html

Umeda, Sayuri (2014) Japan: Possession of Child Pornography Finally Punishable. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

US Department of State. (2021, August 5). Japan. United States Department of State. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Yujie. (n.d.). JK Businesses in Japan An investigation into the schoolgirl dating industry of Japan. JK Businesses in Japan. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from

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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

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João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

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Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

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She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

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Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
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Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
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prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.