Muslim women wearing head scarves while sitting a national examination to become nurses in Japan had their headgear checked by examiners to prove they were not cheating, the health ministry said Feb. 23.

The women came to Japan under economic partnership agreements (EPA) that allow them opportunities to work in the nursing field.

The national test, held nationwide Feb. 18, was the first case in which the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare entrusted the implementation of the examination to a private company.

On Feb. 23, the ministry instructed the Tokyo-based firm to send a letter of apology to all of the 400 or so test-takers, saying, “(The act of flipping up scarves) was inappropriate.”

According to the ministry, test overseers checked the head scarves of women in at least two test sites, one in Aichi Prefecture and the other in Kagawa Prefecture.

In classrooms that accommodated only test-takers who had come to Japan under EPAs, officials checked the head scarves of Muslim women from Indonesia and other countries to ensure they were not cheating.

In Islamic tradition, Muslim women wear scarves in public to protect their modesty.

A representative of the company that oversaw the test-takers told The Asahi Shimbun, “We reacted in the same way as we do when test-takers are wearing face masks or using blankets on their lap (to stay warm).”

However, the ministry judged that the action lacked religious consideration and was inappropriate.