Review Technical Intern Program to Protect Trainees from Isolation

Many pregnant foreign trainees in the so-called technical intern program have been unable to confide with others and receive appropriate support. Working and living environments in which the human rights of foreign nationals are disregarded need to be reformed as soon as possible.

The Supreme Court has overturned lower court rulings, acquitting a former trainee from Vietnam accused of abandoning and concealing the bodies of stillborn twin boys she had given birth to in her room in Kumamoto Prefecture in 2020.

The woman wrapped the bodies of the newborns in a towel and placed them in a cardboard box along with a letter in which she apologized to her stillborn sons. She then kept the box in her room for more than a day. District and high courts had found her guilty of concealing the bodies, among other charges.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that her acts did not constitute corpse abandonment. The top court appears to have concluded that the woman could not be charged with the crime as it cannot be said that she showed a lack of care in her treatment of the bodies in her room.

The case has apparently highlighted problems with the technical intern training program.

The woman did not tell anyone she was pregnant. When someone at the farm where she worked asked about her condition after becoming concerned that something was wrong, she did not mention her pregnancy because she had read on social media that pregnant foreign trainees were forced to return to their home countries.

More than 20% of foreign trainees on the program who responded to a government survey said they were told by their employers or supervising organizations such things as “You will have to quit your job and return home if you get pregnant.” There have been multiple cases across the nation in which foreign trainees kept their pregnancy secret and abandoned the bodies of their children after giving birth.

The law for protecting foreign trainees on the technical intern training program has no provision requiring them to return home because of pregnancy. However, due to misleading information from supervising organizations and others, some trainees believe they will be sent back to their home countries. Such misinformation may be behind the abandonment cases.

Labor-related laws and regulations in Japan apply to the technical intern program’s 330,000 trainees, who are entitled to benefits such as maternity and childcare leave, as well as a lump-sum childbirth allowance.

It is important for the government to implement measures to strengthen the monitoring of supervising organizations and employers to ensure trainees do not become isolated. Efforts must be made to expand and improve consultation services and the system that helps trainees learn the Japanese language.

The original aim of the technical intern training program was to allow trainees to acquire skills in Japan that they could utilize for the development of their home countries. In reality, however, many companies and other entities merely regard the trainees as cheap labor.

Nonpayment of wages and violence have also been rampant in workplaces. As a result, there have been many cases of absconding among trainees.

If these problems are left unresolved, trust in Japan will decline, and such workers will not choose to come here. The government should fundamentally review the program to enable foreign trainees to live with peace of mind.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 25, 2023)