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UN committee urges Japanese gov't to compensate forcibly sterilized disabled women

The United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in its final opinion issued this month in conjunction with its periodic review of Japan, has advised the Japanese government to provide compensation to women who were forcibly sterilized under eugenic protection policies because they had disabilities.

Disabled women's groups in Japan and their supporters welcomed the recommendations, which they are pressing the Japanese government to implement.

The committee's final opinion points out the problematic history wherein some 16,500 women in Japan were forcibly sterilized under the Eugenic Protection Act -- which authorized the procedure as a means of preventing the birth of so-called undesirable children -- with no compensation or apology subsequently provided by the government.

The U.N. committee is consequently urging the Japanese government to "research the situation, prosecute perpetrators, and provide legal support and reparations to victims."

Members of the Tokyo-based DPI Women's Network Japan observed the committee proceedings in Switzerland on Feb. 16.

Kumiko Fujiwara, 52, a visually disabled resident of Kobe, explained to the committee members that doctors tried to convince her to abort her baby while she was pregnant -- and that there continue to be women with disabilities in Japan who are shunned by those around them when they have their periods, become pregnant, and give birth.

It is the first time for a U.N.-related organization to call for concrete reparations with respect to this issue since a meeting of its Human Rights Commission in 1998. While the Eugenic Protection Act regulations regarding disabled persons had been repealed when the law was revised and renamed the Maternal Protection Act in 1996, cases still persist such as the uteruses of disabled women being removed.

Fujiwara said that the recent committee opinion "has gone further than those from 1998," and added, "I hope that the government conducts an inquiry into the matter, apologizes, and pays compensation."

According to Yasutaka Ichinokawa, a professor of sociology at the University of Tokyo who is an expert on eugenics protection policies, "There are still people alive from the social work field who regarded sterilization as a natural procedure. Japanese society has not been able to keep its distance from the issue."

He added, "I'd like to continue looking into the matter, and urging the government to take action."

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