'Comfort women' endured slavery after the war: study
Japanese soldiers ran brothels until 1947, investigators say
Mainland lawyers have released the country's first study into the extent of the Japanese military's wartime use of sexual slavery on the mainland in the hope of collecting evidence to strengthen future claims against Tokyo.
'We want to examine this segment of history from a lawyer's point of view, and gain a comprehensive understanding that goes beyond individual cases,' said Kang Jian, a lawyer involved in several suits brought by the 'comfort women' against the Japanese government since 1995.
The study was conducted by an investigative committee created last year by the government-backed All China Lawyers Association and the China Legal Aid Foundation.
It concluded that Japanese troops forced women into sexual slavery on the mainland for at least 16 years, longer than the official duration of the war between the countries, which lasted from 1931 until 1945.
Ms Kang and her team visited Shanxi, Hainan, Yunnan, Liaoning and Jilin during the first phase of the five-year study. They found 17 women - 16 in Shanxi and one in Hainan - who said they had been forced into sexual slavery and had not yet filed a claim or whose cases had not been reported in the media.
Fourteen of them were younger than 18 years old when they were forced to work as sex slaves. The oldest was 21 years old at the time, while the youngest was 12.
The study also found that Japanese troops took over homes, community halls and even temples for their wartime brothels.
One group of Japanese soldiers, 'Baoan No6' from Taiyuan, Shanxi, stayed behind after Japan surrendered in 1945 and continued to exploit the women until at least 1947, the study said. The soldiers notified other remaining Japanese troops that they were holding the women at a house in Taiyuan.
Ms Kang said the main aim of the study was to strengthen the grounds for future claims against the Japanese government. She also asked for more victims to speak out.
Four claims on behalf of more than 20 mainland sex slaves have been lodged in Japanese courts against the Japanese government.
Ms Kang said Japan's highest court dismissed two claims in April on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired, and that government officials should not be held accountable for actions carried out in the course of their work.
A third claim was rejected in 2005, and an appeal in the fourth case was pending.
The 'comfort women' issue remains contentious between Japan and its Asian neighbours because Tokyo has refused to compensate the women for their suffering. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed in March that there was no proof that Japanese troops coerced women to work in the brothels, a suggestion that stirred up an outcry and resulted in him apologising for the victims' suffering. However, he did not retract the statement.
The US Congress passed a resolution last month demanding an unambiguous apology from Japan for coercing Asian women to work in the military brothels.
There is no definitive figure on the total number of 'comfort women' in Asia. A common figure quoted is 200,000, while some researchers say there were that many on the mainland alone.