Japan sterilisation law victims get compensation and apology

  • Published
Forced sterilisation in Japan - protesters in 2018Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Demonstrators march in support of forced sterilisation victims in May 2018

Tens of thousands of victims of forced sterilisation in Japan are now entitled to compensation.

Under a eugenics law which was in effect from 1948 to 1996, people were made to undergo operations to prevent them having children deemed "inferior".

Many of the victims had physical or cognitive disabilities, mental illness, or behavioural problems.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has issued an apology for the "great suffering" they experienced.

Under a new law that was passed on Wednesday, surviving victims will each receive 3.2 million yen ($28,600; £22,100). Many were children or teenagers when they were operated on.

They now have five years to apply for compensation, which will need to be approved by a board of experts.

"During the period the law was in effect, many people were subjected to operations that made them unable to have children based on their having a disability or another chronic illness, causing them great suffering," Mr Abe said in a statement.

"As the government that carried out this law, after deep reflection, I would like to apologise from the bottom of my heart."

About 20 victims of the law are currently suing the government over it. The first judgement in one of these cases is due at the end of May.

One unnamed woman, who is suing for 11m yen ($98,300; £76,000), was sterilised in 1972 at the age of 15 after being diagnosed with "hereditary feeble-mindedness".

"We've had agonising days," her sister told a press conference last January. "We stood up to make this society brighter."

What was the sterilisation law?

The Eugenics Protection Law came into force in 1948, as Japan struggled to rebuild itself after World War Two.

It sought to prevent people with physical and cognitive disabilities from being able to have children, as well as those with mental illnesses. People with certain diseases were also sterilised - such as those with leprosy, a now-curable condition known as Hansen's disease.

It's believed that at least 25,000 people were sterilised in the 48 years the law was in place and, while few records remain of the time, it's thought that at least 16,500 of those did not give consent.

Sterilisations peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, and continued until the final operation in 1993. The law was finally revoked in 1996.