February 24 2023
SHIZUOKA – A Japanese court on Friday ordered the government to pay damages to a hearing-impaired woman who underwent forced sterilization under a now-defunct eugenics protection law, the fourth such ruling.
The Shizuoka District Court found the 1948 law unconstitutional and awarded 16.5 million yen ($123,000) to the plaintiff, a resident of the central Japan prefecture, who filed the lawsuit in 2019 claiming she underwent sterilization surgery in 1970.
It is the fourth case in which damages have been awarded over forced sterilization, following rulings by the Tokyo and Osaka high courts and the Kumamoto District Court.
In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Yoshinori Masuda said the sterilization infringed on the woman’s freedom to decide whether to bear a child in violation of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to pursue happiness.
The non-consensual surgery “based on the discriminatory idea that the birth of disabled offspring should be prevented” resulted in “enormous mental and physical suffering,” he said.
The court ruled that the government was obligated to compensate the woman, and the statute of limitations of 20 years for an unlawful act under the Civil Code did not apply.
Similar lawsuits have been filed with 10 courts and a branch across Japan. Most of the district courts have dismissed the claims for compensation over the expiry of the statute of limitations.
Between 1948 and 1996, the eugenics protection law authorized the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary disorders, even without their consent. About 25,000 people were sterilized, according to government data.
The woman’s lawyer had asserted that “forced sterilization was the greatest postwar human rights violation under the Japanese Constitution.”
A law took effect in 2019 to pay 3.2 million yen in state compensation to each person who underwent forced sterilization, but there has been much criticism over the uniform amount.
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