Comment on the Acquittal Ruling by the Supreme Court in a Stillborn Twins Abandonment Case Against a Former Technical Intern Trainee
On March 24, 2023, concerning a case in which a former female technical intern trainee from Vietnam was indicted for abandoning the corpses of her stillborn twins, the Second Petty Bench of the Supreme Court reversed the rulings rendered by the courts of prior and first instance and handed down a judgment of acquittal. The defendant in such case became pregnant while working as a technical intern trainee in Kumamoto prefecture and decided to conceal her pregnancy from everyone in fear that her training would be suspended, and she would be sent back to Vietnam if the pregnancy became known. She eventually gave birth to twins all by herself, and the twins passed away shortly after birth. She then wrapped the corpses of the deceased twins in towels and put them in cardboard boxes before placing the boxes on a shelf in her room. She was later indicted for abandoning the corpses of her twins on the grounds that her treatment of the corpses constituted abandonment. After having been convicted by the courts of prior and first instance, she was subsequently acquitted by the Supreme Court which stated that her treatment of the corpses should not be regarded as abandonment, as the crime of abandonment should only be found in cases where there was an act of abandoning or concealing a corpse in a manner that was not recognized as a burial performed according to customs, and it would be a massive disservice to justice if the rulings of the courts of prior and first instances were allowed to stand.
It is important to provide support to pregnant women to ensure that they do not become isolated in the first place. There have been a growing number of cases involving isolated childbirths where women were left with no choice but to give birth by themselves at home or other places, as well as cases of women suffering a miscarriage or stillbirth due to such isolation. The acquittal in the present case against the former technical intern trainee highlights the problematic nature of a long-standing practice of treating such women, who need protection due to various reasons and circumstances, as a suspect who has committed a crime such as abandoning a corpse and subjecting them to criminal proceedings as a defendant.
In addition, in the present case, the defendant’s background of being a technical intern trainee contributed to her isolated childbirth. The purpose of the Technical Intern Training Program is to promote international cooperation through the transfer of skills, techniques, and knowledge to developing countries and other regions through human resource development. However, in reality, the Program is being utilized by Japanese business operators as a means to secure their workforce under the pretext of international cooperation. Due to the Program being established for a purpose that only exists as a pretext, trainees are basically not allowed to change their jobs or workplaces. In the event that they are no longer able to train under their current employees, they lose their residence status in Japan and have to return to their countries, which makes the structure of the Program problematic. Furthermore, according to the outcomes of a survey conducted by the Immigration Services Agency published on December 23, 2022, 26.5% of the trainees surveyed answered that they have been warned by their sending or supervising organizations that they would lose their job (meaning that they would be sent back to their countries) if they became pregnant. Such a warning has been shared among those who have come to Japan as technical intern trainees under difficult circumstances, such as having borrowed a large amount of money for their training in Japan, and the awareness that pregnant trainees will have to return home if their pregnancy becomes known by their employees has become widespread. There have indeed been cases where such trainees have actually been forced to return to their countries after their employees learned about their pregnancy. While there are many cases of women, regardless of their nationality, not being able to receive sufficient support during their pregnancy or childbirth in Japan, pregnant trainees, in particular, are being placed in an extremely tough situation. It is hard to fully imagine the heartache suffered by such trainees who were forced to go through an isolated childbirth under such difficult circumstances.
In the Opinion on Abolishing the Technical Intern Training Program and Reforming the Specified Skilled Worker Program dated April 15, 2022 and other documents, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (the “JFBA”) has pointed out the structural problems involved in the Technical Intern Training Program and expressed its position that the Program should be abolished and reformed, while also squarely acknowledging it as being a means to secure a necessary workforce in Japan. The government subsequently established the Advisory Council on the Technical Intern Training and Specified Skilled Worker Programs under the Ministerial Council on Acceptance and Inclusion of Foreign Human Resources in November 2022, which is considering matters including the proper state of the Program and whether it should be allowed to continue.
The JFBA highly values the decision rendered by the Supreme Court in the case against the former technical intern trainee. Moreover, in order to avert the recurrence of the tragedy experienced by the former technical intern trainee, the JFBA once again urges the government to provide support to pregnant women in a manner that will prevent such women from having to endure an isolated childbirth and properly protect those who end up going through such childbirth or suffering a miscarriage or stillbirth due to being isolated. In addition, the JFBA also calls for the government to abolish the Technical Intern Training Program and establish a new program that better protects the human rights of foreign workers by ensuring actions such as allowing such workers to change jobs or workplaces without a cap on how many times they can make such changes and prohibiting the collection of high fees from such workers. The JFBA is committed to exerting its utmost efforts toward the establishment of such a new program.
April 24, 2023
President of Japan Federation of Bar Associations