Japan’s parliament on Monday released a detailed report on the country’s Eugenics Protection Law, which for decades gave the government free rein to sterilize people with cognitive disabilities, mental illnesses or hereditary diseases to supposedly prevent “inferior” offspring. according to the Japan Times.
The report found that under the law, which was in force for 48 years after World War II, 24,993 victims were sterilized and about 16,000 of them did not consent to the procedure – including two 9-year-old children.
Lawmakers then unanimously passed the law, a successor to Japan’s 1940 National Eugenics Law. According to the Japan Times, it was aimed at tackling a growing population amid post-war food shortages. A 1975 high school textbook cited in the report said lawmakers sought to “improve” the “genetic makeup of the general public.”
The nine-year-old children mentioned in the report, a boy and a girl, were sterilized in the early 1960s and 1970s.
The law was repealed in 1996, and a new law in 2019 awarded each victim US$22,648 (3.2 million yen) in compensation. according to the BBC. Since then, thousands have sued the government over more lawsuits, urging Parliament to launch a new inquiry in June 2020.
The 1,400-page report released Monday was damning.
Not only did it confirm that adult consent was not required by law and that a prefectural government panel was allowed to review and approve each case, but also that scores of people were sterilized without that panel ever being notified.
It also found that the Ministry of Social Affairs had given local authorities across Japan permission to lie to people with hereditary diseases, including at least one victim who was told they were going to have surgery for appendicitis – only to be inadvertently sterilized instead.
“I want the state to stop obscuring the issue and take our suffering seriously soon,” an 80-year-old victim who was sterilized when he was 14 and asked to remain anonymous said at a news conference, according to The Japan Times.
Yasutaka Ichinokawa, a professor of medical sociology at the University of Tokyo, has been calling for an investigation since 1997. He told the Japan Times that compensation should be increased to $22,000.
“Legislators should take responsibility for reviewing the Compensation Act and other means by which (the government) should provide relief to victims so that a tragedy like this never happens again,” he told the outlet.
Japan is not the only government sanctioning forced sterilizations. An estimated 60,000 Americans were sterilized under the eugenics laws in the 20th century.
Koji Niisato, one of the lawyers representing the Japanese victims, told the Japan Times that the report does not clarify “why the law was created, why it took 48 years to change, or why the victims are not compensated.” became”. This week’s reveal is reportedly just the first of many to come.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said during a news conference Monday that the government “sincerely reflects on the pain and deeply apologizes for it,” according to the Times. He also claimed Parliament would do its best to fix additional compensation for the victims.