Cambodian women rescued from sex slavery in Japan

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Seven Cambodian women have been rescued from a restaurant in Japan where they were allegedly forced into sex work after a victim made a desperate Facebook plea for help, an official said on Wednesday (Jan 18).

The women, who are in their 20s, were lured to work at the restaurant in central Honshu island in November with promise of high wages by a Japanese owner who arranged visas and airfares for the them, the Cambodian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"But (he) threatened and forced the victims to have sex with guests at the restaurant and did not pay them salaries," the statement said.

Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Chum Sounry told AFP the women were rescued in mid-December after a victim wrote a plea for help on the Facebook page of the Cambodian embassy in Japan.

Japanese authorities in Gunma prefecture, west of Tokyo, were then alerted.

Six of the women are now staying at the Cambodian embassy in Tokyo awaiting repatriation on Thursday (Jan 19) while the seventh victim was sent home late last month for health reasons.

Cambodian officials did not say if the Japanese restaurant owner was arrested or faced any charges.

Japan has long been a destination for women from Southeast Asia seeking higher wages who often find themselves forced into sex work or indentured labour.

Last August the Philippines warned its citizens against illegally travelling to Japan in search of work, saying they often risked being trafficked for sex or forced labour.

Washington's annual report on people trafficking says Japan remains a "destination, source and transit" country for human trafficking despite a recent increase in prosecutions.

"Traffickers strictly control the movement of victims using debt bondage, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, passport retention, and other coercive psychological methods," the State Department's 2016 "Trafficking in Persons" report says.