A recent parliamentary report from Japan has exposed the dark history of the country’s former eugenics laws, revealing that around 25,000 individuals underwent forced sterilizations, most of whom did not give their consent. Shockingly, some of the victims were children as young as nine years old, who believed they were receiving legitimate medical treatment.
The eugenics laws were enacted from 1948 to 1966 and targeted people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness, or hereditary disorders, as the government sought to prevent the birth of what they deemed “inferior” children. These laws were also driven by a desire to combat food shortages after World War II by reducing population rates. Although the legislation ended in 1966, eugenic propaganda continued to circulate, with a high school textbook from the 1970s still touting government efforts to improve the genetic predisposition of the public.
A previous report, conducted several years ago, shed light on cases in which deaf individuals were coerced into undergoing abortions and sterilizations, though the number of affected people was significantly smaller at that time. The recent report acknowledges the staggering scale of the issue, with 25,000 victims coming forward.
In response to the revelations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno issued a public apology on behalf of the Japanese government. In 2019, legislation was passed to compensate victims, with a set amount of ¥3.2 million (approximately $22,000) per person. However, some argue that this sum is inadequate, and there are calls for a reexamination of the compensation law to provide fair reparation.
While the report has been commended, the lawyers representing the victims assert that there are still unanswered questions from the government. They emphasize the need for transparency and comprehensive understanding, urging the legislature to address the reasons behind the creation of the law, the significant delay in amending it, and the lack of compensation for the victims.
One anonymous victim, now 80 years old, who was sterilized at the age of 14, expressed hopes that the government would take their suffering seriously and handle the issue with transparency instead of concealing it. The report marks an important step toward acknowledging the atrocities committed under the eugenics laws, but there is much more work to be done to ensure justice and prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.