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Japan called to pay for past forced abortions

TOKYO (AsiaNews): The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a written statement on February 25 challenging the government in Tokyo to conduct a full investigation into the effects of the now defunct Eugenic Protection Act, which prescribed abortions and sterilisation for people with certain disabilities and hereditary illnesses.

Adopted in 1948, the purpose of the Eugenic Protection Act was to prevent the birth of imperfect children.

The legal federation is asking the government to conduct a full investigation into the damage caused by the law, as well as issue an official apology and pay compensation to those who were forced to undergo abortions and sterilisation.

The federation claims that approximately 25,000 people were sterilised and 60,000 abortions were performed under the act.

Following criticism for the violation of the reproductive rights of disabled persons, the law was amended in 1949, but some local authorities continued to enforce it, because of legalised discrimination against people with physical and mental difficulties.

Under the current Maternal Health Act passed in 1996, there are no eugenics provisions.

“Decisions concerning reproduction should be made freely based on the intentions of those involved,” the statement from the federation says.

It adds that sterilisation and abortions performed on people with disabilities and hereditary diseases trampled on their dignity and infringed on their individual reproductive rights, in addition to being unconstitutional.

In March 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that the Japanese government carry out an investigation into any damage caused by the law and offer compensation to those affected.
The government responded by saying the act was implemented legitimately and compensation would be difficult.

After a long history of eugenics laws, Japan is now facing a major demographic crisis. Its aging population and low birth rate combine to make it one of the most acute in the world, which could lead to the collapse of its pension and welfare systems.

The government has called on people to have more babies and is trying to address the problem with policies designed to boost the birth rate. However, it is difficult to ascertain whether these efforts will lead to substantial results in the short run.

However, the law did not only affect those who were forced to undergo abortions or sterilisation, but also the social workers whose job it was to enforce them.

A social worker at a city hospital in Fujisawa recounted that initially she did not think much about it, but when the situation arose while she was pregnant herself, she thought, “What right would anyone have to tell me I have to abort the baby I am carrying in my stomach?”

She solved the initial problem by passing the case to a colleague, but admitted that she never felt comfortable about the practice again, and suffered mental anguish whenever such cases came across her desk.

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