Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Editorial: Concrete measures to help Japan's Unification Church victims needed ASAP

Discussions in Japan's Diet are in full swing on providing relief for those in the country who have suffered damages caused by the Unification Church, now formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

    Four parties, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, plus the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and Nippon Ishin (the Japan Innovation Party), have established a committee to address the compensation issue. They are aiming to enact legislation in the current Diet session.

    Over the years, Unification Church activities including "spiritual sales" -- marketing items as having special spiritual benefits -- and taking enormous cash donations from followers have led to serious problems, not least among them, those followers' impoverishment and the breakup of their families. An effective aid mechanism should be put in place immediately.

    The government set up a contact point for victims in September, and took more than 1,700 inquiries in less than a month. The majority of these cases involve financial stress. One person reported that one of their family members went bankrupt after donating more than 100 million yen (about $675,000) to the church. Many of the cases happened within the past year.

    According to a Consumer Affairs Agency analysis of recent inquiries, elderly women were the most frequently caught up in these woes. More than half of the consultations were from family members and others close to the church follower.

    The Consumer Contract Act is expected to be revised soon as a path to remedy the damage. A provision was added in 2018 allowing people to cancel "spiritual sales" contracts. Now, there is a proposal under consideration to relax that provision's requirements and extend the period it can be applied.

    However, there are questions over whether donations can be considered contracts. A Consumer Affairs Agency expert panel has called for a legal ban on requesting donations from people under "mind control."

    The CDP and Nippon Ishin have submitted a new bill to the Diet with the same intent. It would allow the government to issue corrective orders to prevent requests for donations and set penalties for violations. This is a very aggressive measure.

    The bill includes a provision allowing family members to request refunds on behalf of the donor if they are designated as a "special assistant" for that donor by a family court. The guideline for contributions to be considered illegal has been set at more than a quarter of one's annual take-home pay.

    However, the involvement of a third party could constitute a violation of property rights guaranteed by Japan's Constitution. There is also a risk that the donation recipient could thus find out the donor's annual income.

    The legislation is intended to forestall future damage. But measures to cover past damage must also be considered. Support for "second-generation believers" -- the children of Unification Church followers -- is also essential. It is furthermore important to improve the counseling system. A contact point should be set up where legal and psychological experts can be consulted.

    Relief for victims cannot be put off. The ruling and opposition parties must discuss what measures they should take, and start implementing what they can.

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media