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Sex ed. for those with disabilities in Japan the focus in woman's trial over baby's death

The Saga District Court is seen here on Aug. 25, 2020. (Mainichi/Shizuka Takebayashi)

SAGA -- A woman with a mild intellectual disability on trial here for the charge of abandoning a dead baby that she gave birth to in a pit latrine has brought into question how much sex education and support people with disabilities receive.

    "I didn't really have anyone to get advice from about my pregnancy," the 24-year-old woman from the Saga Prefecture city of Takeo in southwestern Japan weakly said during her trial that began in July at the Saga District Court. Her ruling is scheduled for Aug. 27.

    According to the indictment and other sources, the woman gave birth to her daughter in a toilet around Dec. 13, 2019 at her home, and the baby was left there until it was discovered by a contractor on Jan. 6, 2020. In an intelligence test conducted on the woman for the trial, she was diagnosed as having the mental age of a child aged 8 years and 9 months. The main point of contention in the trial has become whether the woman was aware that there was a dead body in the toilet.

    The woman, along with her 24-year-old boyfriend -- the dead baby's father and also intellectually disabled -- used a pregnancy test and found out together that she was pregnant around August of 2019. In the courtroom, the woman said she was "happy about the pregnancy," but also said that "she felt uncomfortable telling her family about it." After she became pregnant, she did not go once to see an obstetrician-gynecologist, nor did she tell her family, with whom she was living.

    The woman's attorneys argue that their client is innocent, claiming that "she was unable to anticipate the birth, and was not aware that there was a dead body (in the latrine)." However, prosecutors said for reasons including the fact that the woman told her boyfriend that "it seemed as if she'd had a miscarriage," there was "no possibility that she had not been aware that she had given birth." In court, the woman said about the term "miscarriage," "I don't really know what it means."

    Professor Chieko Hara who teaches clinical psychology in the psychology department of Tokyo University of Social Welfare, and has experience working at facilities for people with disabilities, has honed in on the fact that the woman had not been preparing to welcome a baby, such as by gathering baby clothes and other items. "If she had had love for the baby and awareness toward child-rearing, we may have been able to save that baby's life," she says. Hara emphasizes the importance of sex education at special education classes and schools, including consent between couples and child-rearing, saying, "In order to protect them from sex crimes, it is necessary to repeatedly carry out sex education for people with intellectual disabilities. Men, too, should further their understanding of pregnancy."

    Ai Nishimura, an associate professor at the University of Niigata Prefecture's Faculty of Human Life Studies, who specializes in research on the independence of people with intellectual disabilities, has similar misgivings about the current state of sex education, saying, "There is a tendency for people with disabilities to be distanced from information regarding sex."

    Referring to the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities' stipulation that "If a person with a disability expresses the genuine willingness to eliminate the social barrier, an administrative organ, etc., in conducting its administrative affairs or other work, must provide reasonable accommodation to implement the elimination of the social barrier so long as the burden associated with the relevant implementation is not disproportionate, in accordance with the sex, age, and state of the disability of the person with a disability so that the rights and interests of the person with the disability are not violated," Nishimura says, "It is difficult for people with intellectual disabilities and others who have been distanced from information about sex to express genuine willingness." She added, "It is necessary to think together with people who have disabilities about what kind of assistance we can provide that does not make 'the expression of willingness' the starting point, but makes 'living a life with a feeling of ease' the goal."

    (Japanese original by Shizuka Takebayashi, Saga Bureau)

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