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Japan: Govt Report Exposing Forced Sterilisation of Kids Sparks Outrage

Newsclick Report |
The 1,400-page report discloses that nearly 16,500 individuals underwent non-consensual sterilisation between 1948 and 1996.
japan children

The eugenics law claimed to prevent the birth of what it deemed as "poor-quality descendants" and protect the health of mothers, predominantly impacting women.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Campaigners in Japan expressed anger as a recently released government report unveiled the forcible sterilisation of children, including those as young as nine, under a eugenics law that remained in effect until the 1990s.

The 1,400-page report, presented to Japan's parliament this week, discloses that approximately 16,500 individuals underwent non-consensual sterilisation between 1948 and 1996, The Guardian reported. The eugenics law claimed to prevent the birth of what it deemed as "poor-quality descendants" and protect the health of mothers, predominantly impacting women.

The report further reveals that around 8,000 individuals provided consent, likely under duress, while nearly 60,000 women went through abortions due to hereditary illnesses. Shockingly, two nine-year-olds, a boy and a girl, were among those forcibly sterilised, according to The Guardian report.

The victims' enduring fight for justice has shed light on the mistreatment of individuals with disabilities and chronic conditions by the Japanese state in the post-World War II era.

In 2019, lawmakers passed compensation legislation offering each victim ¥3.2m ($22,800) from the government, an amount criticised by the campaigners as inadequate compared to the suffering caused. 

The application deadline for compensation is set to expire in April 2024, yet only 1,049 victims have received the funds, according to media reports.

Over the course of several decades, victims of the sterilisation program have tirelessly advocated for financial reparations and acknowledgement of the physical and mental trauma they faced. Meanwhile, many have gotten old and passed away.

While four courts have awarded damages to victims, others have sided with the government, citing the expiration of the 20-year statute of limitations. 

Lawyers argue that the victims were not aware of the true nature of their surgeries until it was too late to seek legal redress, the report said.

Germany and Sweden, which had similar laws in place, have since apologised to victims and provided compensation, repealing their laws decades before Japan.

Earlier this month, a high court dismissed compensation claims from two women, including Junko Iizuka, who underwent a mysterious operation at the age of 16, only to discover later that she was rendered unable to have children.

Speaking out, Iizuka, now 77, revealed to the media the devastating impact of eugenics surgery on her life, including the breakdown of her marriage and her subsequent mental health struggles. Iizuka plans to appeal the ruling in her compensation case, emphasising that the trauma inflicted upon her and fellow victims should not remain concealed.

Following the report's release, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno expressed the government's apologies for the tremendous pain inflicted on the victims of forced sterilisation.

The report highlights that sterilisation, conducted under the now-defunct eugenics law, was a prerequisite for admission to certain welfare facilities or marriage. It targeted individuals with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, or hereditary disorders to prevent the birth of what was considered "inferior" offspring.

Koji Niisato, a lawyer representing the victims, commended the report for exposing the horrors of forced sterilisation. But Niisato noted unresolved questions regarding the law's origins, the lengthy period it took to amend, and the lack of compensation for victims, The Guardian reported.


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