Three plaintiffs who suffered under eugenics law to get payouts after judge overturns lower court decision
Thousands of women were forcibly sterilised under Japan’s eugenics law, which was abolished in 1996. Photograph: Daniel Hurst/The Guardian
The Guardian-Justin McCurry in Tokyo
A court in Japan has awarded damages for the first time to people who were forcibly sterilised under a now-defunct eugenics law designed to prevent the births of “inferior children”.
The Osaka high court overturned a lower court decision and ordered the government to pay a combined ¥27.5m (£175,600) to the three plaintiffs, who are in their 70s and 80s. It described the law, which was abolished in 1996, as “inhumane”.
Courts hearing similar cases have declared that the practice was unconstitutional, but rejected damages claims, saying the 20-year statute of limitations had expired.
A lower court had rejected the three plaintiffs’ demand for that reason in 2020 – a ruling the Osaka high court judge said “grossly violates the spirit of justice and fairness”.
Japan’s government apologised and awarded compensation to thousands of people in 2019, but the victims’ lawyers said the one-off offer of ¥3.2m did not reflect the suffering the victims had experienced. To date, the government has compensated fewer than 1,000 victims under the scheme, according to the Kyodo news agency.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Tamano Tsujikawa, said his clients – a married couple with hearing difficulties and a woman with an intellectual disability – had “moved mountains” by communicating their anguish to the judge.
“I am happy our claim was accepted,” the woman, who was forcibly sterilised in 1965, said after the verdict, according to public broadcaster NHK, which did not name her.
“But the sorrow of having to go through the operation is still with me even now,” she said.
Victims and their families welcomed the verdict. “This ruling stands by the victims,” the sister-in-law of a plaintiff in a separate suit in Sendai, north-east Japan, told Kyodo.
Saburo Kita, a representative of a group of victims and their families, told the news agency: “Our lives were completely destroyed. This is not about money. With this verdict, I want the government to bow in front of all of the victims and apologise.”
Between 1948 and 1996, about 16,500 people, mostly women with disabilities, were operated on without their consent under the law, which aimed to “prevent the birth of poor-quality descendants … and to protect the life and health of the mother”.
About 8,000 other people gave their consent – almost certainly under pressure – while almost 60,000 women had abortions because of hereditary illnesses, according to media reports. The eugenics law was abolished in 1996.
The health ministry will review the case before deciding whether to appeal, government officials said. The health minister, Shigeyuki Goto, described the verdict as “very tough” for the government.