Three people in their 70s sued the state for damages on Thursday, claiming they were sterilized against their will under the now-defunct eugenics protection law.
Kikuo Kojima, 76, in Sapporo, and a woman in Miyagi Prefecture and man in Tokyo who have declined to be named, filed the lawsuits at their respective district courts seeking a total of ¥79.5 million ($721,000) in damages, saying that they have been robbed of the right to decide whether to have a child.
The lawsuits come on the heels of the nation’s first such filing, made by a woman in her 60s in Miyagi in January. More suits are expected to follow, with a lawyers’ group set to form later this month to assist victims nationwide.
“Why couldn’t I have a child with my beloved wife? I want this to be resolved as soon as possible so that it will never happen again,” said Kojima.
The plaintiff in Tokyo said he has now spoken out about something he could not mention before, and urged others who feel the same way to come forward.
While the government has insisted that sterilizations under the eugenics law, effective from 1948 to 1996, were legal and conducted according to strict procedures, it launched last month the first nationwide survey on the matter.
Both ruling and opposition lawmakers are considering relief measures regardless of the outcome of the lawsuits.
The plaintiffs in the latest suits say they were sterilized between the 1950s and the 1960s on the grounds of having intellectual disabilities, among other reasons, and that the state failed to take legislative steps to help those affected even after the law was scrapped.
Legal documents show Kojima was forced to undergo surgical sterilization after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a mental hospital in Sapporo when he was about 19.
The man in Tokyo underwent surgery at around 14, while he was at a children’s home in Miyagi, without being given any prior information. He was never diagnosed with any disabilities or illnesses targeted by the law.
He got married at 28 but could not talk about his surgery with his late wife, who wanted a child, until decades later when she was hospitalized for leukemia.
“I want my life back. I want the state to tell the truth,” the man said at a news conference after filing the lawsuit.
The woman in Miyagi, who was sterilized at 16, has been asking the prefectural government to disclose documents related to sterilizations for about 20 years, but the prefecture has told her such documents do not exist.
Despite her unsuccessful attempts to obtain the documents, the woman decided to file the lawsuit because the prefectural government said in February it would admit to carrying out sterilizations even without such documents if certain conditions were fulfilled.
“I have suffered greatly. After raising my voice for 20 years, I was finally able to file a lawsuit,” said the woman.
By the time the eugenics law was scrapped in 1996, around 25,000 people had been sterilized on the grounds of disability including some 16,500 without consent, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
The law, which was modeled on Nazi Germany’s sterilization law, was enacted in 1948 as a measure to control the population at a time when Japan faced a postwar food shortage. It remained in force until 1996 when such shortages were no longer present.
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