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Over half of forced sterilization surgeries performed on minors: Miyagi Pref. records

SENDAI -- Over half of those with intellectual disabilities or mental illnesses that underwent forced sterilization surgery under the now-defunct eugenics law here were minors, records provided by the Miyagi Prefectural Government show.

Called "eugenic surgery" under the Eugenic Protection Law (1948-1996), the Miyagi Prefectural Government's surviving records from fiscal 1963 to 1981 revealed that of the 859 men and women sterilized under the law, 52 percent of them were under the age of 20, with the youngest being two 9-year-old girls and a 10-year-old boy. In many fiscal years, children around the age of 11 were also confirmed, revealing a strong sterilization crackdown that reached as far as children that had little possibility of reproducing.

A Miyagi woman in her 60s who underwent forced sterilization surgery at age 15 became the first to file for compensation from the central government in the Sendai District Court on Jan. 30.

According to the contents of the partial records obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun from the prefectural government, during the 19-year span, 320 men, 535 women and four individuals of unknown sex or age underwent the surgeries. Among them, there were 191 male minors (59 percent) and 257 female minors (48 percent).

As for the reason for the surgeries, the most common was "hereditary psychological weakness," a euphemism for intellectual disabilities, at 745 cases -- over 80 percent of all surgeries. "Schizophrenia" was the reason for 39 surgeries, "hereditary psychological weakness and epilepsy" for 26 cases and "epilepsy" for 15. Additionally, there were 14 people without intellectual disabilities or mental illnesses who were also sterilized because they were simply hard of hearing or had other physical disabilities.

Under the eugenics law, there was no limit on the age of those targeted for sterilization surgeries, and a 51-year-old man and a 46-year-old woman were the oldest cases recorded during the period. The youngest were two 9-year-old girls who underwent surgeries in fiscal 1963 and 1974, respectively, both with the reason for their sterilization listed as "hereditary psychological weakness." Almost every fiscal year, there are cases of children around 11 years old recorded.

When the records are examined by year, the peak of surgeries was seen in fiscal 1965 at 127 cases, decreasing to 108 in 1966, 94 in 1970, 33 in 1973 and so on, gradually leveling off.

According to investigations by the Mainichi Shimbun and former Ministry of Health and Welfare annual sanitation reports, during the period that the Eugenics Protection Law was in force, 16,475 people underwent sterilization surgeries without their permission. Of them, surviving records show that the highest number of cases was operated on in Hokkaido at 2,593 people, with Miyagi Prefecture coming in second at 1,406 people, Okayama Prefecture at 845, Oita Prefecture at 663 and Osaka Prefecture at 610. There were cases in all 47 prefectures, with the lowest number being two in Okinawa.

The law was based on Nazi German rhetoric to prevent the birth of unhealthy offspring, allowing for the sterilization of those with disabilities without their consent. The need for the surgery was decided by a doctor, and confirmed by a committee at the prefectural level. In order to perform the forced surgeries, the use of physical restraints, anesthesia, deception and other methods were also allowed. When a person who had been operated on was to be married, the act required notifying their partner.

"From the standpoint of current medicine, performing sterilization surgery on a 9-year-old girl goes against common sense," a Tokyo gynecologist who was involved in the surgeries, 84-year-old Sadao Horiguchi, told the Mainichi Shimbun using his real name. However, he recalled, "At the time, we had no choice but to perform the surgeries under the law."

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