c/o Sudou Shinichirou Gyouseishoshi Office
〒862-0950 2-14-302 Suizenji 3 Choume, Chuou-Ku, Kumamoto City
On November 2020, Ms. Le Thi Thuy Linh, a Vietnamese migrant worker, or technical intern trainee, working on a tangerine farm in Japan gave birth to twin stillborn babies in her dormitory room, where she lived alone. She could not tell anyone about her pregnancy because she was afraid of being sent back to her home country like many other pregnant trainees before her. She could not go back home as she needed to support her family financially as well as to pay back the debt of 1,500,000 yen that she had incurred in order to come to Japan. Suffering from hours of labor pain, her twin boys were finally born. The room and her futon were covered in blood. In front of Linh, the babies were lying motionless without crying. The babies were stillborn.
In a state of physical and mental exhaustion, she wrapped her babies’ bodies in a towel and placed them in a cardboard box which was all she could find in the room at that time. She wrote a letter to the babies, saying "I'm sorry, my twin babies. May you soon be in a peaceful place”, with their names and the date of birth, and place it on the babies. It was a cold day, so she placed the box into a larger cardboard box and sealed the top with a few pieces of cellophane tape so that the babies wouldn’t feel cold. She put the box on the top of the shelf right next to her and spent the night with them. The next morning, Ms. Linh’s supervisor noticed that her health condition was abnormal and took her to a hospital where she confessed her stillbirth in tears.
The Technical Intern Training Program (TITP), whose ostensible purpose is to transfer technology from Japan to other countries, has been a system that provides cheap labor to Japanese employers who are struggling to find workers amidst Japan’s current labor shortage. Currently, nearly 400,000 technical intern trainees are working in Japan and many trainees work under harsh conditions, such as power harassment, sexual harassment, and racism. Many technical intern trainees are not granted the rights that should be guaranteed as humans, such as freedom of choosing an occupation or residence, or freedom of pregnancy and childbirth. The Japanese government is not actively protecting them. For these reasons, this program is often criticized as “modern slavery” or human trafficking. To make the matter worse, many trainees owe huge debts to sending organizations, brokers, and receiving organizations, which have become a part of the system. In 2019 alone, about 10,000 trainees were sent back to their home country before finishing their contract, and a further 10,000 disappeared in the middle of the program. When trainees speak up and insist on their rights to change their conditions, they are often punished for it.
In the case of pregnancy, it is often considered “troublesome” by the employers and the trainee ends up being sent back to her home country regardless of her will. Technical intern trainees are supposed to be protected by Japanese law the same as Japanese workers. The law stipulates that trainees should not be treated disadvantageously even if they become pregnant or give birth in Japan. Trainees are supposed to carry out practical training according to the training plans that they agreed before coming to Japan. Nonetheless, if a trainee becomes pregnant, it is legally possible to change the training plan, continue working in a way that suits her condition, suspend the training at the time of childbirth, and continue training after the maternity leave. However, in reality, termination of training and deportation of pregnant trainees are still rampant. In some cases, pregnant trainees are even required to pay compensation as a penalty. For the trainees, whose intention is to make money for their families and who came to Japan with a large amount of debt, termination of the training is not acceptable. Under such circumstances, it is very difficult for most trainees to tell their employers when they become pregnant and need help.
Ms. Linh gave birth without any support. She was all alone. After she confessed what had happened, the police came and asked her many questions in Japanese, which she hardly understood. She was arrested for the crime of abandonment of corpses, which she didn’t even commit.
With the help of local NGOs and supporters, Ms. Linh has decided to fight for her innocence at trial. On July 20, 2021, the Kumamoto District Court found her guilty of abandoning the corpses of her babies judging that her actions did not constitute a preparatory act for "normal burial," but that she neglected her obligation to hold a funeral and left their bodies unattended, resulting in an offence to the general religious susceptibilities of the citizens. The court sentenced her to "8 months in prison, with a 3-year suspended sentence.”
Ms. Linh appealed because she was not satisfied with the judgment. She did not leave the bodies. Only one day, about 33 hours, passed from the time of birth to her confessing the stillbirths the next day. She stayed with the children the entire time. Can this be called abandonment?
However, on January 19, 2022, the Fukuoka High Court revoked the judgment of the first instance, admitting that Ms. Linh did not "leave" the bodies, but still convicted her and upheld the sentence of "3 months in prison, with a 2-year suspended sentence”, saying that her act of double-packing the babies in a large box so that they would not be cold and taped constituted an act of "concealing" and "hiding the corpses".
Ms. Linh’s defense team insists that Ms. Linh's act was not an abandonment of the corpses of her stillborn babies. After giving birth to stillborn twins, she was emotionally devastated, yet tried her best as a mother to mourn for her babies. She put the babies’ bodies in a coffin-like box for that day and spent the night together. It was the best and the only thing she could do given her circumstances. "I didn’t throw away my babies nor hide them" Ms. Linh has consistently said.
Therefore, Ms. Linh and the defense team appealed to the Supreme Court on January 31st, 2022, and her lawyers presented the grounds for her claim to the Supreme Court along with 127 opinion letters and 25,912 additional signatures (86,612 in total) on April 11. But to win, we need more signatures and to create a bigger groundswell of public opinion and international pressure.