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SOCIETY > Human Rights

Editorial: Raise awareness of relief law to help find victims of forced sterilization in Japan

  • May 17, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 1:16 p.m.
  • English Press

One year has passed since a law was enacted to provide a lump-sum payment to disabled people and others who underwent sterilization under the now-defunct Eugenic Protection Law. As many of the victims are elderly, efforts to provide them with financial relief should be accelerated.


The defunct law, which was meant to “prevent the birth of inferior descendants,” came into force in 1948, and a total of about 25,000 people had surgery under the law. The redress law stipulates that ¥3.2 million is to be paid to each victim.


According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, about 12,000 victims may still be alive. However, only 909 people have applied to the central or prefectural governments for the lump-sum payment, and 533 had been deemed eligible as of the end of April.


In many cases, screening takes more than six months for an applicant to be recognized as a victim of surgical sterilization. The ministry’s panel of experts, which is in charge of conducting the screenings, is urged to act in line with the purpose of the law, which calls for promptly giving relief to the victims.


Records on about 7,000 cases of sterilization remain at local governments and hospitals across the country. The Tottori prefectural government has confirmed that six people are alive out of the 21 for whom it still has relevant records. Detailed responses, including efforts by Tottori officials to meet with victims or their relatives to inform them of the harm caused under the defunct law, have helped them file their applications for relief.


It is hoped that by using these cases as a reference, other local governments will also look for ways to ensure that victims are informed of the relief measures, while taking into consideration their privacy.


However, many of the victims are believed to have no records of their surgery or even to be unable to know that they suffered harm, due to their intellectual disabilities or for other reasons. How to uncover unknown cases and help such victims is a challenge.


At facilities where disabled people live, staff members have reportedly noticed surgical scars on some people when assisting them in bathing or on other occasions. It is necessary for local governments and facilities to work together to encourage victims to apply for compensation based on such information.


The relief system may not be well known among relatives and others who closely support disabled people. It is advisable for prefectural governments to explain the application procedures in detail through support groups for the disabled and family associations across the nation.


The redress law calls on the central government to conduct a fact-finding investigation into sterilization, in order to not repeat measures that severely trampled on the honor and dignity of disabled people and others. However, major progress has yet to be made.


In May last year, the Sendai District Court ruled that the defunct Eugenic Protection Law was unconstitutional in a lawsuit in which victims sought compensation from the state.


As many years have passed since people suffered harm, there is concern that relevant documents may be scattered and lost. Verification work, including interviews with the parties involved, must be carried out swiftly to reveal the full extent of the errors.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 17, 2020.

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