Photo/IllutrationA letter of consent that technical trainees are required to sign at a training facility includes the clause, “Do not have any romantic relationship with the opposite sex.” (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Torn between having an abortion to keep working to pay off her family's massive debt or give up her internship in Japan, a 22-year-old technical trainee from Vietnam decided to flee her workplace.

Many pregnant foreign technical trainees are being forced to make a tough decision by their employers and related organizations.

In some cases, pre-internship training organizations even ban trainees from having a romantic relationship and can impose a fine if they become pregnant. Legal experts are concerned that such practices can constitute human rights violations.

The Vietnamese trainee took sanctuary in a shelter operated by a human rights group in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

“I am two months pregnant,” she said quietly.

The woman came to work at a paper-making factory in western Japan under the government's Technical Intern Training Program. She learned that she was pregnant shortly after she finished a one-month pre-internship training program.

“Have an abortion, or I will send you back to Vietnam. It’s your choice,” a supervisor at the training facility said, giving her an ultimatum and even offering her an abortion drug if she needed one.

She thought, “I want to have my baby. But I want to work in Japan to pay off my debt.”

The pregnant trainee, who grew up in a poverty-stricken area of northern Vietnam, was tormented by the dilemma.

She had decided to work in Japan because the cost of medical care for her sick mother plunged her family into massive debt. Her grandmother borrowed 1 million yen ($8,813) from relatives for her travel expenses to Japan.

She became pregnant by a Vietnamese man with whom she had a relationship before she came to Japan, but the man denied that he is the father.

The trainee asked for help from Maria Lan, a 55-year-old Vietnam-born sister who belongs to a Catholic church in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, through social networking services.

Zentouitsu Workers Union, a labor union based in the capital’s Taito Ward, which organizes individual workers irrespective of their company affiliation, arranged for the trainee to flee her dire situation.

Lan said she receives a constant stream of e-mails and phone calls asking for help from Vietnamese female trainees who have been put in similar situations.

Lan recently received a dire message from a 32-year-old pregnant trainee. The trainee, who ran away after her employer pressured her to leave Japan, told Lan, “I want to kill myself.”

LETTER OF CONSENT

At a pre-internship training facility in western Japan, technical trainees are required to sign a letter of consent that forbids them from “having any romantic relationship with the opposite sex.” It also explicitly states that “males and females cannot visit each other’s rooms.”

These rules only apply while trainees are in the pre-training program. However, the form has an additional clause that says, “You are subject to company rules that are mostly the same as our rules, so do not relax and lose focus on following them for the next three years.”

A former staff member who worked at the training facility said, “Companies want to make trainees work efficiently. If a worker becomes pregnant, her productivity declines. I have never heard of a company that lets technical trainees take maternity leave.”

In a manual distributed to instructors, the facility set specific rules for pregnant trainees.

If a pregnant trainee wants to have a baby, she will be forced to return to her home country and penalized.

If she wants to continue her internship in Japan, she may be allowed re-entry only after she returns to her home country to have a “procedure” done there. She will be required to pay a fine and her own airfare.

This facility also gives an introductory lecture titled “changing your way of thinking” before trainees leave their countries for Japan, in which they are told that pregnancy is prohibited, according to the former staff member.

Nisshinkutsu temple in Tokyo’s Minato Ward has held funeral services for Vietnamese students and technical trainees who died in Japan. For a period from 2012 to the end of July, the temple has 101 death records, of which 24 are of babies who were stillborn or aborted.

Thich Tam Tri, 40, a nun at the temple, said, “Many women suffer from mental illness because they resort to having an abortion after much agonizing.”

Syoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer familiar with the issues surrounding foreign technical trainees, said, “It is a clear violation of human rights and an unacceptable practice to forbid trainees from getting involved in romantic relationships and becoming pregnant.”

The legislation to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, which is currently under discussion in the Upper House, would not allow many of the foreign workers with the new work visa, like technical trainees, to bring family members with them to Japan.

Ibusuki pointed out that it is because “workers are seen as nothing but objects.”

At an Upper House Judicial Affairs Committee session in November 2016, the government stated, “It is illegal and unacceptable for supervisory organizations and employers to force (foreign technical) trainees to return to their home countries against their will on the grounds of pregnancy, childbirth and marriage.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Law also prohibits business operators from firing female workers on the grounds of pregnancy and childbirth.

In 2013, a Chinese technical trainee filed a lawsuit against her employer in Toyama Prefecture, alleging that she suffered a miscarriage after the company attempted to forcibly send her back to China because of her pregnancy. The court ruled in favor of the trainee.