Japan on Friday enacted a law enabling compensation payments of up to ¥1.8 million to be made to family members of leprosy sufferers who experienced discrimination and prejudice under the country’s former segregation policy.
The law stipulates that the government and the Diet “deeply apologize” and show remorse to the family members for their hardship. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is now curable but many patients were forced into isolation in sanatoriums under a law that was in place between 1907 and 1996.
Japan launched a compensation program nearly two decades ago for the leprosy sufferers but it did not cover their family members.
The new law comes after the government decided earlier this year not to appeal a court ruling that ordered the state to pay the compensation.
Under the law, family members of those with leprosy such as parents, spouses and children are eligible for ¥1.8 million in compensation. Siblings can receive ¥1.3 million and payments are expected to begin in late January.
The bill, which was co-sponsored by both the ruling and opposition parties, cleared the House of Representatives on Tuesday before it was passed unanimously through the House of Councilors on Friday.
The total number of people eligible for compensation is expected to be around 24,000, with a price tag of about ¥40 billion.
Lawyers for the family members in the lawsuit welcomed Friday’s enactment of the law as a “major step forward.”
“The law addresses many of the limitations in the June ruling of the Kumamoto District Court and we highly appreciate it as a major step forward in resolving the issue of the family members’ suffering in a comprehensive manner,” the lawyers said in a statement.
“We are keenly aware of the need to create an environment in which not only the plaintiffs but also many other family members who did not join the lawsuit can also be covered by the law without feeling worried,” the lawyers said. “We will make all-out efforts to that end.”
In 2001, a court found the government’s segregation policy to be unconstitutional. Then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized to former leprosy patients.
But it was not until July this year that the first official apology was made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the family members for their suffering.
A Kumamoto District Court ruling that ordered the state to pay a total of about ¥376 million in damages to 541 out of 561 plaintiffs was finalized in July after the government decided against filing an appeal.
The order said the state must pay between ¥300,000 and ¥1.3 million per person.