The death Friday of Shigeru Yokota, the father of Megumi Yokota, who became the face of the abductees taken by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, will deal a devastating blow to the families who have been fighting for decades to get their loved ones back.

Yokota, who was 87, was at the forefront of a movement to pressure the government into retrieving 17 confirmed abductees. Megumi was abducted in 1977 while walking home from school in a village on the coast of Niigata Prefecture when she was 13.

But with many of their family members getting old and the government distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, economic problems and other concerns competing for lawmakers’ attention, time is running out on the issue, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has often declared to be one of his highest priorities.