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Editorial: Japan's forced sterilization victims need easier path to compensation

One year has passed since the enforcement of Japan's legislation to compensate disabled people and others who were forcibly sterilized in the country under the now-defunct eugenic protection law (1948-1996).

Administrative bodies and medical institutions retain medical records for some 7,000 people sterilized under the law. Of these, about 3,400 are believed to be living today.

Nearly 900 applications for compensation have been filed so far. As of the end of March, a uniform payment of 3.2 million yen per person has been granted to 529 people. This means that only around 15% of the surviving people have been recognized as being eligible for compensation. Individually notifying the people whose surgery records remain about the relief measures is the key to raising this figure.

Victims had asked the government to include within the law a system to individually notify victims, but this was not accepted, on the grounds it could constitute a violation of privacy.

Nevertheless, some local bodies have made their own decision to individually notify people. A survey conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun of all 47 prefectures in Japan in January found that four prefectures -- Tottori, Hyogo, Gifu and Yamagata -- had taken such measures.

An official from Tottori Prefecture in western Japan commented, "If we adopt a response that matches the circumstances of the people involved, then protection of privacy and damage recovery do not conflict with each other.

In the case of Tottori Prefecture, sterilization surgery records exist for just 21 people, making it easier for the prefecture to respond to them individually. But for Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan, where the records for 900 people remain, an official indicated that it would be difficult to notify people on an individual basis, saying, "We don't have the manpower."

It is clear that if people are notified on an individual basis, it will lead to relief for those who didn't know about the system. As things stand, disparity may begin to emerge among different prefectures over who is granted compensation under the law and who is not. We would like to see other local bodies learning from the active approach the four prefectures are taking.

To ensure smooth certification of victims' eligibility for compensation, it would be worthwhile for the government to consider providing financial assistance to regions where there are many victims.

In the meantime, we cannot ignore the underlying sense of discrimination toward the disabled that exists in society. For those with intellectual disabilities to apply, cooperation from their families is essential. We must not allow a situation in which families hesitate to apply due to prejudice from those around them.

Efforts are needed to facilitate widespread public understanding of the circumstances faced by victims, who suffered great pain as a result of human rights violations. The government's act of publicizing the relief system alone will not lead to more people being granted compensation.

The time limit for seeking compensation is five years from the time the law came into effect. The government should consider extending this deadline depending on how many people are actually granted compensation.

The central government and local bodies have a responsibility to continue making an effort until all victims of forced sterilization are saved.

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