Three Japanese who were forcibly sterilized under a government policy decades ago filed lawsuits Thursday demanding an apology and compensation, in a growing movement seeking official redress.
The two men and a woman, all in their 70s, are among at least 16,500 people who were sterilized without consent under a 1948 Eugenics Protection Law that was in place until 1996.
The law, designed to "prevent the birth of poor-quality descendants," allowed doctors to perform abortions or sterilize people with disabilities.
The three plaintiffs are seeking about 80 million yen ($730,000) in total. They filed their cases Thursday at district courts in Tokyo and the northern cities of Sendai and Sapporo.
Their lawyers say the government's implementation of the law violated the victims' right to self-determination, reproductive health and equality.
One of them, Kikuo Kojima, 76, from Sapporo, said he decided to speak out to let people know about the policy. He is seeking 11 million yen ($100,000) in damages for the loss of his ability to have children and psychological pain from it.
"The same mistake should never be repeated," he told reporters outside the court. "I want the government to acknowledge its responsibility." He said he hopes other victims will join the action to seek an official apology and compensation from the government.
Kojima was forcibly sterilized in 1960 after being treated for a mental illness when he was 19. He had no choice, and was told by the hospital where he had the operation that "it would be a disaster if a person like you had children," according to public broadcaster NHK.
A fourth person, a woman in her 60s, filed a similar suit earlier this year.
The 75-year-old plaintiff in Tokyo who uses the pseudonym Saburo Kita said he was sterilized in 1957 at age 14 when he lived in an orphanage. He broke the secret to his wife just before she died five years ago, and said he regretted she couldn't have children because of him.
"I want the government to tell the truth, and tell them I want my life back," he said.
In addition to the forced sterilizations, about 8,500 others were sterilized with consent, though likely under pressure, while nearly 60,000 women had abortions because of hereditary illnesses, according to Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
Among them were about 10,000 leprosy patients who had been confined in isolated institutions until 1996, when the leprosy prevention law was also abolished. The government has offered compensation and an apology to them for its forced isolation policy.
The government has maintained that the sterilizations were legal. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment Thursday on the lawsuits.
But recent efforts by human rights groups and lawyers have uncovered evidence including medical records of the victims, prompting the health ministry to investigate for the first time.
A group of lawmakers is currently initiating possible relief measures.
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