Japan’s parliament has released a report that revealed the shocking details of a eugenics law that authorized the government to sterilize people with disabilities or mental illness for nearly half a century.
The report, based on a government investigation that began in June 2020, acknowledged that about 25,000 people were subjected to operations to prevent them from having children deemed “inferior”. The law was in place from 1948 to 1996 and was influenced by Nazi Germany’s ideology.
Among the victims were two nine-year-olds, a boy and a girl, who were sterilized under the law. Many others did not consent or were deceived into undergoing the surgery. Some people were told that they were being treated for an illness, while others were coerced by local authorities or welfare facilities.
An 80-year-old victim, who was forced to have the surgery at 14, told local media that the report was proof that the government had deceived children. “I would like the state not to shroud the issue in the darkness but take our sufferings seriously soon,” said the victim who went by a pseudonym of Saburo Kita.
The report has sparked outrage on social media and among human rights activists. One Twitter user said it was sickening to find out that children as young as nine were sterilized. Another criticized the government for being too slow to repeal the eugenics law, while expressing hope that Tokyo would also look at laws that limit the rights of women and LGBTQ persons.
Japan apologized and paid reparations to the survivors in 2019, but some victims have sued the government for more compensation and accountability. The parliament report said that the eugenics law was a product of an era when people believed that improving the quality of the population was a national policy.
However, a Japanese court ruled in August 2021 that the eugenics law was unconstitutional and violated human dignity. The court also denied damages to five plaintiffs who claimed that they suffered physical and psychological harm from the forced sterilization.
“The court’s decision is extremely regrettable. It is a denial of human rights,” said Koji Niisato, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs.
Japan is not the only country that has had a history of forced sterilization policies. Other countries, such as Germany, Sweden and the United States, have also implemented similar measures in the past and have apologized and paid reparations to their victims.
– Japan sterilisation law victims included nine-year-olds, BBC, 20 June 2023
– Some duped into sterilization surgery under eugenics law, parliament report says, The Japan Times, 20 June 2023
– Japan court rules defunct eugenics law unconstitutional, denies damages, Kyodo News, 3 August 2021
– Japan court rules forced sterilization under Eugenics Protection Law was unconstitutional, Jurist, 29 May 2019