A Woman Forcibly Sterilised by the Japanese Government is Demanding Compensation

Content warning: discussion of ableism and eugenics

A woman is suing the Japanese government over her forced sterilisation four decades ago. This is the first case to be brought against the government regarding their now withdrawn ‘Eugenic Protection Law.’ You can read a more detailed account at the source article here, on the Guardian’s website.

The woman, who is being kept anonymous, is requesting ¥11 million ($101,000 USD) compensation from the government, after she was sterilised against her will when she was fifteen years old due to her intellectual disability.

The woman was sterilised under the ‘Eugenic Protection Law’, which was instituted in Japan against the backdrop of their surrender during the second world war, when politicians were pushing to supposedly ‘improve the quality’ of the nation. The law used the rhetoric and ideas of eugenics to target individuals thought to have hereditary mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities for sterilisation, sometimes with their consent but often without it. Later amendments to the law meant that those whose illnesses were not hereditary could also be subject to sterilisation. The law was in place between 1948 and 1996, and in total approximately 25,000 people were operated on under it. Of these, 16,500 were forced into the procedure. Approximately 70% of the sterilisations were performed on females, some of whom were as young as nine.

The law was eventually withdrawn after protests from disability rights advocates. The government had proposed to extend the reach of the law for a second time in 1972, when it attempted to include a clause that would lead to women who were pregnant with disabled foetuses having induced abortions. Disability rights activists, many of whom had cerebral palsy, protested this proposed amendment, comparing it to Nazi sterilisation. This was followed by public outrage over the death of two patients who were hospitalised for mental health reasons, and were beaten to death while under care in 1984. These events sparked widespread criticism of Japan’s eugenics laws, and the practice declined and was eventually stopped.

However, patients who were subjected to irreversible forced sterilisation while the laws were in place did not receive any compensation or apology from the government, and received little recognition of the physical and psychological impact it had on their lives. Dalia Leinarte, chair of the committee on the elimination of discrimination against women at the United Nations, has called on the government to provide rehabilitation, compensation, and an apology to survivors. She described forced sterilisation as a human rights violation, stating, “in some cases [it] may amount to torture.” Despite this, the Japanese government has remained silent. One woman who is now speaking out about her experiences says that it is difficult to talk about, but that she wants people

“to know the truth about what happened[.] I want the government to apologise and give compensation.”

Although this case is the first legal challenge to the Japanese government, the pressure to address past actions is mounting as activists bring more attention to the issue and survivors continue to speak out.

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