National / Social Issues

Japan's government urged to do more to fight discrimination over leprosy

JIJI

During a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday, relatives of former leprosy patients called on the government to continue efforts to combat discrimination following the recent enactment of a law for compensation.

They expressed gratitude for the enactment of the law, passed this month, which provides up to ¥1.8 million each in compensation to relatives of former patients.

A decadeslong quarantine policy was in place until only about 20 years ago. The state paid compensation to former patients themselves after the Kumamoto District Court ruled in 2001 that the policy violated the Constitution.

The newly passed legislation setting out compensation for family members was initiated by lawmakers after the same court issued a landmark ruling in June that ordered the state to pay compensation to the relatives of former leprosy patients. The court’s decision recognized that the government’s quarantine policy for the patients had caused discrimination against family members as well. The government did not appeal the ruling.

The law’s enactment came as “a result of the government recognizing the hardships that the families of leprosy patients suffered,” said Hwang Gwang-nam, the 64-year-old deputy leader of the group of plaintiffs in the lawsuit, at the meeting Tuesday with Abe at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo.

Referring to an acquaintance living in Osaka who has still been unable to tell their son that they were a patient for fear of discrimination, Hwang said, “The government needs to continue showing a stance of supporting those” who are living with the history of their disease.

“It’s not that it’s all over (after) we get the compensation money,” he added.

“I took to heart how much distress (relatives of former leprosy patients) suffered,” Abe said, adding, “The government will work in unity to combat the discrimination and prejudice over leprosy.”