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Editorial: Bill to compensate forced sterilization victims needs to go further

Ruling and opposition party lawmakers have drafted a bill that would offer 3.2 million yen in damages to each victim forcibly sterilized under the now defunct eugenic protection law.

So far, a total of 20 people across Japan have filed lawsuits seeking compensation for their sterilization under the law, which remained in force until 1996 and targeted people with disabilities, among others. It is rare for a bill on compensation to be drawn up before rulings have been handed down in such cases. Legislators deserve credit for swiftly moving to provide relief in consideration of the victims' age.

However, there remains a wide gap between legislators and victims on the compensation amount and the wording of an apology. Legislators plan to submit the bill during the current session of the Diet in April, but it should first be revised into a form victims can agree with.

When setting the amount of compensation at 3.2 million yen, legislators are said to have taken as reference the level of relief for forced sterilization victims in Sweden in the 1990s. But just how rational is an amount based on a foreign example, from a different period with different commodity prices? The amount victims have been seeking in courts across Japan surpasses 10 million yen. It is said that the standard for compensation in traffic accident cases in which the victim loses reproductive capability is 10 million yen.

Former Hansen's disease patients who were unfairly subjected to discrimination and prejudice under the nation's policy of isolating the people with the disease were awarded compensation ranging from 4 million to 14 million yen.

Compared to those amounts, the sum proposed for forced sterilization victims is far too low.

The bill states, "In our respective positions, we sincerely reflect on the matter, and offer a heartfelt apology." But victims have objected to the use of the terms "we" and "in our respective positions." They say that "the state" should be the one making the apology.

The eugenic protection law was introduced as lawmaker-initiated legislation in 1948, and legislators repeatedly asked questions and made requests urging thorough implementation of sterilization. The then Ministry of Health and Welfare also repeatedly notified local bodies that they should thoroughly sterilize people under the law.

Considering that the legislative and executive branches of the government led the way in pushing for sterilization surgery, an "apology" that leaves the government's responsibility vague does not seem sincere.

Many years have passed since the sterilization operations. It is only natural to widely offer a compensation payment to people regardless of whether operation records remain and whether they consented to the procedures or not. The victims that have come to light so far represent only a fraction of the actual total. It is necessary to think about how to go about providing relief to as many people as possible.

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