Japan ‘earn and learn’ toll: 2 deaths, 1 coma, 30 TB cases, 2 paralysis cases, 2 mental breakdowns and many traumatized youths

Parents say the children that have come back from Japan are not the same

More than 500 youths are ready to file cases and more are expected

Over four hundred parents and students of the ‘learn and earn’ program gathered on 7th April to discuss the case against the agent, Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) which will be forwarded to the court after receiving power of attorney from the remaining students in Japan.

The meeting was started by sharing the findings by the two representatives of the committee who returned from Japan after studying the ground reality last month. This was followed by sharing of experiences by students who returned home recently. The meeting then sought opinions from the parents. The gathering also discussed about the case which will be forwarded to court against BEO.

Death and sickness in Japan

The Japan issue came to light after a 24-year-old boy committed suicide in Fukuoka, Japan in December last year. He is believed to have taken this step due to the extreme situation and stress faced in Japan.

Another boy recently died two weeks after reaching home from Japan. Some of his friends say the deceased was suffering from a heart disease which worsened during his stay in Japan. Ngawang Tobgay wondered why the agent allowed such a sick person to go to Japan.

Sonam Tamang whose picture in the hospital bed has gone viral in social media has been in a coma for the last six months. Her situation is said to have been aggravated by tuberculosis and working under harsh conditions which added to the 90 percent brain damage. She is still in a Japanese hospital.

The parents’ representatives visited the hospital to examine the status of the girl but the hospital denied their request to see the girl.

The students alleged half the body of a boy is paralyzed after slipping at a workplace in Tokyo, after which the boy was sent back to the country.

Ngawang said one of the students who recently returned home has her right hand paralyzed. “She used to work in a food packaging factory.”

The parents’ recent visit to Japan has come across six new cases of tuberculosis, taking the total number of TB cases to more than thirty so far.

The parents’ committee members believe it could be due to strenuous work conditions and timings which led the students to take fast food without proper timing and nutrition. Some said physical and mental stress could have led to cause the illness.  The students during the time of illness were restricted from work and school for the duration of six months. Ngawang Tobgay said during those time, with no income, they had to manage money from friends.

Two students also became mentally unsound where one of them was even put in prison for performing an insensible act.

Parents during the meeting claimed that their children returned home physically weak, mentally disturbed and morally down. “Our children don’t seem at all like what they used to be before,” said a parent at the meeting and this sentiment was echoed by others.

Students threatened by the agent and supporters

“While most of the findings are not new to the gathering, the parents were especially taken aback by the fact that the youths where threatened in many different ways by the representatives of the agent,” said the committee lawyer Ngawang Tobgay, adding that their visit to Japan has gathered more evidence on it.

“One main threat was that Mrs. Aoki, wife of Jurmey Tshewang who is also the principal of Japanese language school in the country sent text message to students, saying whoever appraised their situation in Japan over social media can be tracked down and would have to bear the consequences.”

Ngawang Tobgay said several such threats and restrictions from the agent led the issue to be suppressed for a long time although the issue was faced in a much earlier phase of the program.

He said this has led the number of youths in Japan to multiply to seven hundred plus over the time while the issues remained suppressed due to the threats. “The students were forced to remove their posts and comments from social media”.

One of the girls who returned home in January this year said the agent’s representative in Japan, Tandin Wangchuk, personally visited the institute in Tokyo, Japan and threatened the students. “He scolded us for coming on social media and speaking out the truth about our situation which has led to the issue getting attention back in the country and also led to questions against the agent,” she said, adding that the agent’s representative was furious at the time.

The students also said that their decision to return home was halted long ago since the officials from Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) along with the agent’s representatives during their visit said that the loan has to be cleared within six months if the students return back home. “Since then we saw no hope in returning home anytime soon since we were worried about loan repayment which would be in six months,” said a student.

One of the parents of the committee said that since the children did not want to bother the parents, it took longer for the issue to come to the parents’ knowledge.

Ngawang said the youths were silenced by either threats or with favors which benefitted a few. He added there were many such incidents where the youths were made to shut their mouths.

Case against BEO

The committee of parents and students will soon be filing the case against the agent for which all the members gathered in the hall supported by raising their hands, in addition to the power of attorney.

The parents and students shared that the issue, being serious, cannot be foregone easily without getting justice especially for the the ones who lost their lives, got sick, got injured, disabled and also the hundreds of traumatized youths and family members in the name of benefiting a few who exploited the youths.

The members also said that the case which should have been forwarded long before was withheld to this day since a comprehensive finding from Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was awaited, which was refused, and then they awaited proper action from the government which proved otherwise.

So far, the committee lawyer received power of attorney to forward the case from more than five hundred youths. “The total number and the findings will be finalized in a week since some students are on their way home and we are yet to receive the remaining forms which are filled by the students.”

Ngawang said the case will be on more than just a breach of contract. “Individuals have their own story which is not highlighted yet.”

Many of the youths said the issue is aggravated not just by the breach of contract but that the tactics used by the agent can be likened to human trafficking since the agent not only lured the youths by taking huge commission from the students but secretly took additional commission from the language schools and workplace resulting in a devastating experience for the youths.

“Another issue was that the visit of officials from the labor ministry was not fruitful,” Ngawang said, adding that the officials firstly didn’t visit all the language schools, but met just a handful which was recommended by the agent and the visit was accompanied by the member from the agent.

He said the visit didn’t make any sense. He said the majority of the students said that most of the survey questions which was provided by the officials were in favor of the agent. He also added that the students were also scolded by the officials during their visit.

Parents don’t want to submit survey findings to govt

The committee members shared their intention to not submit their findings to the government, unless it is necessary.

The gathering said their request to include parents’ representatives in the government’s fact-finding team was denied in the first place. The visit, after being postponed, was followed by the visit of the parents’ representatives which was not appreciated and in any event, the government was defensive about the agent which shook their confidence in presenting their findings to the government.

“In some events, the situation of our youths are being compared to that of Australia, USA, and other countries were most of our Bhutanese go, I have the knowledge about the differences between these countries and Japan would say it is unethical to even assume the comparison,” said one of the parents of the committee during the meeting.

The members also said if the only solution the government can provide is the loan deferment; it doesn’t make sense to submit the findings to the government.

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