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Only 0.3% of forced sterilization victims have filed for related records over past year

Lawyers representing plaintiffs demanding government compensation over forced sterilization enter the Sendai District Court, in Sendai's Aoba Ward on Feb. 8, 2019. (Mainichi/Issei Takizawa)

TOKYO -- A mere 0.3 percent of some 25,000 victims who were forced to undergo sterilization operations under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996) have sought disclosure of their surgery records and other personal information in 13 prefectures over the past year, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

The nationwide survey, conducted between late March and early April, found that only 67 forced sterilization victims had requested disclosure of their surgery and other related records between January 2018 and March 2019.

Furthermore, while the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has confirmed the existence of personal records and relevant documents for 5,400 people subjected to forced sterilization, information about only 18 people was found and released after such requests were filed.

The Mainichi survey's target period started in January 2018, when a woman in her 60s in Miyagi Prefecture filed a suit with the Sendai District Court demanding the government pay compensation over the damages she suffered from coerced sterilization -- the first suit of its kind in Japan.

The survey results indicate that the number of forced sterilization victims who file information disclosure requests could remain extremely low even if a bill to pay a lump-sum of 3.2 million yen to each victim is implemented. The bill was passed unanimously during a plenary session of the House of Representatives on April 11 and is expected to be passed into law as early as next week after deliberations in the House of Councillors.

"With regard to personal records retained by government administrations, it is necessary for the government to make efforts to inform the victims and their family members of the facts about their damage while taking their privacy into consideration," said an expert.

The Mainichi survey, involving both questionnaires and interviews, was conducted across all 47 of Japan's prefectures, all of which responded. The poll covered five items including the number of consultations that sterilization victims and their kin had received at counters set up at prefectural governments at the instruction of the health ministry, the number of requests for the disclosure of surgery records, and the number of records found.

It emerged that 27 of the 67 people who sought disclosure of their personal records on forced sterilization were located in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido and 21 were in Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan. These groups accounted for more than 70 percent of all of those who made such requests. Of the remaining victims, three each were in Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures in western Japan, two each were in Yamagata Prefecture to the north, Mie Prefecture in central Japan and Osaka Prefecture to the west, and one each was in Fukushima Prefecture to the northeast and Yamaguchi Prefecture to the west.

Information pertaining to 18 people, such as their surgery records and applications for forced sterilization, was found after the filing of information disclosure requests. Eleven of these people were from Miyagi Prefecture, five were from Hokkaido and one each resided in Yamagata and Kyoto prefectures.

The number of consultations received at counters at prefectural governments totaled 324 across 37 prefectures including Tokyo and Hokkaido. Of these consultations, 80 were made by the victims themselves, while 129 were made by their relatives. Only 13 prefectures, including Hokkaido, Miyagi, Kyoto, Tottori, Hiroshima and Saga, informed those who sought counseling that they were eligible to request the disclosure of their surgery records. This indicates a gap among prefectural governments in their responses to victims.

Meanwhile, eight prefectures including Saitama, Fukui, Yamanashi and Nara said they did not receive any consultations from victims over the issue. Miyagi Prefecture received consultations, but did not tally the data. Gifu and Shizuoka prefectures declined to disclose the information.

Yutaka Fujino, a professor at Keiwa College, who is versed in victim compensation issues, commented, "Even though the bill (for lump-sum payments) extends to people whose surgery records are unavailable, this nationwide survey shows that legislation, even if publicized, will not lead to relief for victims as long as the government just waits for victims to come forward and file applications." The professor emphasized, "The government needs to take measures that will leave no one behind."

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Endo, Sendai Bureau and Ayumu Iwasaki, Aomori Bureau)

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