Thousands of people who went through forced sterilization in Japan are to be offered compensation for their ordeal under a now-defunct eugenics law.
About 16,500 people, mostly women with disabilities, were targeted between 1948 and 1996 under a Japanese law that aimed to stop the birth of children described as “inferior.”
Those who went through the process are to receive a “deep apology” and lump-sum payments of ￥3.2 million (US$28,700) under the terms of a bill agreed between ruling party and opposition members of parliament, with the legislation to be submitted to the Diet next month.
While the move is seen as a welcome step forward after years of inaction, victims and their advocates described the relief package as inadequate.
“The individuals had their rights to decide to bear and raise children violated, so a one-time payment of ￥3.2 million will do nothing to recover the damage done,” said Koji Niisato, a lawyer who represents several people seeking compensation.
Former Japanese minister of health Hidehisa Otsuji, the chair of a cross-party group behind the bill’s drafting, said that those affected needed urgent relief.
“They are getting old, so we wanted more than anything to accomplish something concrete,” Otsuji told reporters.
“If we waited until we could come up with the perfect solution, we’d fail to do anything,” the Mainichi newspaper quoted him as saying.
The calls for action grew last year as people began launching lawsuits against the Japanese government seeking compensation for operations they were subjected to under the so-called Eugenic Protection Law.
Between 1948 and 1996, about 25,000 people were sterilized under the law, including 16,500 who did not consent to the procedure. The youngest known patients were just nine or 10 years old. About 70 percent of the cases involved women or girls.
Last year, the Guardian reported the story of two women — whose names have been changed to protect their privacy — who were affected, including Yumi Sato, who was 15 when she was sterilised in 1972.
Sato was set to marry in her 20s, her sister-in-law told reporters, “but when she said that she couldn’t have children, then the person who had proposed to her said that they didn’t want to marry her.”
Official records suggested that Sato was sterilized because of “hereditary feeble-mindedness,” although, as with many cases, this diagnosis is disputed by the family.
Junko Iizuka, whose fallopian tubes were tied in 1963 because the then-16-year-old was suspected of having a mental disability, sought to have the procedure reversed, but was told it would not be possible.
“They stole my life away,” Iizuka said at an event in Sendai last year.
In an editorial, Japan’s Asahi newspaper called on members of parliament to improve the package, as it “falls far short of its objective.
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