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Intellectual disability support group to launch sterilization surgery victim survey

This screenshot shows the website of New Inclusion Japan, a national organization of people with disabilities and their families that is launching a survey of people who were subject to forced sterilization operations decades ago.

TOKYO -- Japan's largest support group for those with intellectual disabilities and their families is launching the first nationwide survey on the damage caused by forced sterilization operations conducted under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996).

Of the approximately 25,000 people who are believed to have undergone sterilization operations, only 3,303 have been identified by name as a result of a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare investigation. Although the Diet is discussing methods to compensate victims who do not have records of their operations, any redress process will require the victims to come forward. How that will be accomplished remains a major challenge.

The 200,000-member "Zenkoku Te o Tsunagu Ikuseikai Rengokai" (New Inclusion Japan) will aim to identify victims of such surgeries that targeted people with physical and intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses or what were believed to be hereditary diseases.

New Inclusion will also try to provide care for the emotional trauma resulting from such operations, which often kept victims silent out of fear of social stigma. It will soon open inquiry offices throughout its chapters in all of the nation's 47 prefectures. Locating victims with intellectual disabilities, many of whom are believed to have undergone such surgeries without understanding the full extent of what was happening, is expected to increase the number of people requiring coverage under the central government's compensation scheme.

The group is poised to set up a review committee this month, and ask its members to provide information or seek out consultation about sterilization surgeries. The organization has already received reports from members who testified that they were sorrowful after being sterilized.

According to people familiar with the history of New Inclusion Japan, the group temporarily gave consent to sterilization operations under the law after a woman with intellectual disabilities was forced into prostitution following her discharge from a care home in Shiga Prefecture in the 1950s. The issue of forced sterilization remained a taboo subject even after the eugenic protection law was revised to the current Maternal Health Act in 1996.

The survey is to be carried out by the group based on chairwoman Atsuko Kubo's recognition and regret that the organization did not appropriately tackle the issue in the past. "The members of our organization are people with disabilities and their parents," said Kubo. "We want to do our best to find out what happened and help heal the victim's psychological wounds."

(Japanese original by Ayumu Iwasaki, Aomori Bureau)

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