SENDAI – Two women who underwent forced sterilization in Japan decades ago appealed Friday a district court ruling that denied their claim for damages despite determining that the country’s now-defunct eugenics law was unconstitutional.
The Sendai District Court found Tuesday that the law enacted in 1948, which mandated the government to stop people with intellectual disabilities from having children, violated the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to pursue happiness.
But the court rejected the ¥71.5 million ($654,000) damages suit filed by the women in their 60s and 70s in Miyagi Prefecture, saying the 20-year statute of limitations had expired.
The ruling was the first in a number of suits filed with seven district courts.
“We decided to appeal because we thought it is so foolish for the district court to dismiss our demands while recognizing the need to save (people with disabilities who were sterilized),” said Koji Niisato, head of the defense team.
Between 1948 and 1996, the eugenics law authorized the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness and hereditary disorders to prevent births of what was deemed “inferior” offspring.
About 25,000 people with disabilities were sterilized under the law, including around 16,500 who were operated on without their consent, according to the health ministry and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
In April, the Diet enacted legislation to pay ¥3.2 million in state compensation to each person who underwent forced sterilization, irrespective of whether they were believed to have agreed to undergo surgery or not.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a statement expressing regret and an apology, but he did not mention the legal liability of the state.