March 1st 2019
The Japanese government will pay thousands of victims of its forced sterilisation scheme compensation in a long-awaited apology for the suffering it caused.
Some 25,000 men and women with intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary disorders underwent sterilisation procedures under the country’s eugenics law. Less than half of those consented to the procedure.
In a new bill, which is expected to be enacted in April, the government will offer an apology and compensation of a minimum of Y3 million (£20,262) to those who were operated on.
The legislation was agreed upon between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition yesterday/FRI and will now be put to the legislature.
It includes the statement: “We sincerely reflect on and deeply apologise for the great physical and mental suffering [that came from the policy]”.
The wording of the apology, in particular the pronoun ‘we’, has attracted criticism since it implies a collective responsibility while stopping short of specifically recognising the state’s own culpability. The government has argued that this is because the policy was legal at the time of the procedures.
Japan’s Eugenics Protection Law was introduced in 1948 to prevent the birth of “inferior” children at a time when Japan was experiencing a shortage of food and other basic necessities immediately after the end of the Second World War.
A series of damages claims have been filed against the administration of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, with many of those affected also demanding that the government accept responsibility for a law that was in force for nearly 50 years. The government has sought to quash these, arguing in court that the sterilisation policy was legal at the time.
Speaking at a protest meeting in December, Takaji Kobayashi claimed he was forcibly sterilised because of a hearing impairment. His wife, Kimiko, who also has a hearing disorder, was coerced into having an abortion and being sterilised, he said.
“We have been truly tormented for decades by not being able to have children”, he said through sign language. “I just cannot allow the country to cover this issue up”.
A 75-year-old man who has filed a compensation suit against the government said, “I want the government – not ‘we’ – to apologise to us. I have been in agony for the last 60 years since I was sterilised”.
Under the new bill compensation will be paid to everyone who was subjected to the procedure under the law, including those who agreed to undergo the surgery. The bill does not require victims to produce documents or evidence of having been sterilised but will include medical examinations.
It also includes a fact-finding survey to understand the background to the country’s eugenics law and prevent future discrimination against disabled people.
It comes as Japan attempts to come to grips with its treatment of people with disabilities. Some have questioned whether Japan, which is due to host the Paralympic Games in 2020, is accepting enough of diversity. The country last hosted the gamed in 1964, when its Eugenic Protection Law was still in force.
Meanwhile last summer the government came under fire after it emerged it had dramatically inflated the number of disabled people it employed to meet its own quotas.
Under the government’s rules, employees with a disability must make up 2.5 per cent of the public sector and 2.2 per cent of the private sector. But in August authorities were forced to admit that the disabled people employed in 27 government agencies and agencies was only half the number it had claimed.