In Japan, the nightmare of immigrant workers who become pregnant

Known as “technical internships”, the Japanese system, which employed around 275,000 workers from countries such as China and Vietnam at the end of 2021, aims to give foreign participants experience in a field useful to them in their country.

Most importantly, critics say it’s a source of cheap labor for businesses in Japan, where the population is aging and migrants are few.

This show is peppered with numerous controversies, with allegations of discrimination and violence. Some trainees were even deployed to decontaminate the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was devastated by a tsunami in 2011.

Women come under additional pressure because “the idea that they could get pregnant in Japan is often considered impossible,” says Masako Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo’s Sophia University who specializes in human rights.

Maternity-related bullying, which also remains a problem for Japanese women, hits more vulnerable foreign technical trainees hardest, despite being generally caught by laws prohibiting pregnancy-based harassment or discrimination.

“Abortion: The Mother’s Choice”

Vanessa, 25, who asked to be identified by her first name only, was working at a nursing facility in Fukuoka (southwest) when she found out she was pregnant. She was in Japan for over a year and hoped to continue her internship after the birth.

She tells AFP from the Philippines that she was pressured into having an abortion, while abortion is a taboo and a crime in her deeply Catholic country. “I said to myself: + How dare they? Abortion is a mother’s choice”.

Eventually her employers forced her to resign, claiming that her situation “would diminish the value of Filipino trainees”‘ said Vanessa.

The extent of the problem is difficult to estimate. According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, between 2017 and 2020, 637 technical trainees dropped out because of pregnancy or childbirth, 47 of them said they wanted to continue the program. But according to migrant women’s advocates, it is “Tip of the iceberg“.

In 2019, the Japanese immigration authorities called the employers to order. “We recognize that it is possible for technical trainees as human beings to conceive and give birth and that they should not be disadvantaged.” That’s why an official at the agency told AFP.

But Hiroki Ishiguro, a lawyer who has represented technical trainees, told AFP “It’s easier for some employers to send them home and have them replaced with new interns rather than incur additional costs.” related to pregnancy.

“Sorry to Both of You”

Financial pressures and debt related to recruitment costs also weigh on trainees like Le Thi Thuy Linh, a Vietnamese worker on a farm in Kumamoto (southwest of Japan) who discovered in July 2020 that she was pregnant.

She feared her family would be in Vietnam “financially destroyed” if she was deported, says Mr. Ishiguro. She hid her pregnancy from her employer and wanted to have an abortion, but medical abortions typically cost more than 100,000 yen ($800) and some trainees are afraid clinics will talk to employers.

Women then secretly obtain abortion pills, a “Very risky act that could result in you being prosecuted for fetus”emphasizes Ms. Tanaka.

Shortly after discovering she was pregnant, the Vietnamese intern took abortion pills after being warned about it by her employer, who suspected she was pregnant “Difficulties” to come, says Ishiguro-san.

In November, alone and at home, she gave birth to prematurely stillborn twins. Exhausted, she wrapped them in a towel and placed them in a box in her room with this note: “I’m sorry for you two”.

The next day, she sought help from a doctor, who reported her to the authorities. In January, she was sentenced to a three-month suspended sentence for “abandoning” the babies’ bodies. She called.

Vanessa’s story ended differently: she gave birth to her son in the Philippines, but still hopes to return to Japan. “I want to prove that it is possible for a pregnant intern to give birth in her country and return to Japan to complete her contract.”

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