A conflict between a U.N. official and the Japanese government is under way in the face of a general silence by international media. Figures on the sexual exploitation of children are the bone of contention.

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, visited Japan in October on her request for an eight day mission. The goal was to “assess the situation of the sale and sexual exploitation of children and the prostitution of children”.

But on the last day in Japan, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio declared before journalists, according to the Japanese foreign ministry, that she had discovered “the multiple forms in which the sexual exploitation of children develops and manifests itself” in the country. “I’m referring in particular to this phenomenon of ‘enjo kosai,’ which is a trend amongst school girls. Some 13% of the school girls in Japan are involved in that kind of activity.” Her official end of mission statement did not include any figures.

The Japanese government reacted, saying the Special Rapporteur remarks were “inappropriate”. It’s “unacceptable” for a U.N. official to quote “unreliable information” without a source, the Japanese minister of foreign affairs declared. Fumio Kishida demanded a retraction.

Foreign Policy recently described the episode with irony: “Japanese sugar daddies may have just found an unlikely ally in their government.”

Compensated dating” describes a Japanese practice of prostitution in which adult men pay for the company of girls as young as 16, CNN recently showed.

In response to the criticism, the Special Rapporteur issued a “clarification” statement in November:

Regarding the estimate of minors allegedly involved in compensated dating (the so-called “joshi kôsei” or “JK business”), there was an error of interpretation during the press conference, and the percentage I cited (13%) was mistranslated as 30%.
[…] In the press conference, I made reference to estimates I had seen in open sources to highlight a phenomenon that must be urgently tackled. The bottom line is that the so-called “JK business” is a very serious matter that needs to be looked into urgently.
Some days later, The Japanese Times wrote that Maud de Boer-Buquicchio had “effectively retracted her earlier allegation that 13 percent of schoolgirls in Japan” are engaged in compensated dating.
A spokesperson for the special rapporteur says to Persona Grata that she sent an “official response” to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November 10. It’s not clear whether that response was a retraction.

The spokesperson also informs that Maud de Boer-Buquicchio “will not make further comments on her visit to Japan until the presentation of her full and comprehensive report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March 2016”.

The U.N. official was interviewed for Persona Grata earlier this year. She declared data on children’s sexual exploitation are rare and lack organization.

“One of the problems in this area is that we don’t have the data, it would be very important to have disaggregated data”, said Maud de Boer-Buquicchio. “When we are talking about child prostitution in some parts of the world we know that a lot of the victims are girls aged between 10 to 15 years. But there is no solid reliable data.”

Bruno Horta