Japan is hosting a conference on human trafficking - just a few days after being placed on a U.S. watch list of nations which need to do more to combat the problem.

Interpol, the international police agency, calls human trafficking the world's fastest growing crime with hundreds of thousands of people traded each year.

The State Department's Acting Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Patricia Stacy Harrison, says more than half the victims are women and children who are sexually exploited. "So few people understand that this word trafficking really means selling into slavery women, men and children -- a life of prostitution, degradation, violence and shame."

First Lady Laura Bush, in a video message to this week's Tokyo conference on human trafficking, says the United States is committed to ending modern-day slavery.

"We're monitoring human trafficking patterns, we're working to build public awareness and we plan to spend approximately 150 million dollars over two years to support anti-trafficking," says Mrs. Bush.

The U.S. State Department in its annual report Monday, says the 10 worst countries for trafficking include Bangladesh, Burma and North Korea. But it also listed Japan as a country which needs to do more, noting it is a major destination for Asian, South American and Eastern European women and children for sexual exploitation or forced labor.

Governor Akiko Domoto of Japan's Chiba Prefecture, adjacent to Tokyo and home to Japan's largest international airport, admits it is a problem. She says Asian women, most believing they are being recruited for work in restaurants, are flown into the country posing as wives of Japanese men.

Governor Domoto says homeless or unemployed men are paid thousands of dollars to register paper marriages to the young foreign women who are then forced to work as prostitutes.

Japanese activists say police do not treat such matters seriously. They say police usually defer to immigration officials who deport the victims but do not go after the traffickers. In Japan, last year only 51 arrests were made in connection with trafficking women.

Japan's Assistant Chief Cabinet Secretary Shotaro Yachi, says Tokyo - stung by its inclusion on the U.S. watch list - is acting. "The government of Japan has clear intention to strengthen our domestic measures to combat trafficking in persons."

Japan and Russia are the only countries among the Group of Eight most industrialized nations on the U.S. watch list.