Compensation for victims of forced sterilization in Japan


Lerato Khumalo

In Japan, many people were forcibly sterilized under a law between 1948 and 1996. The country’s highest court made a groundbreaking decision on the matter.

Japan’s Supreme Court has ruled that a sterilization law, which is no longer in force and under which thousands of people were forcibly sterilized, is unconstitutional. The court also awarded compensation to a group of plaintiffs who had to undergo sterilization surgery many years ago, reported the Japanese news agency Kyodo. Their compensation claims are not subject to a statute of limitations because the law was unconstitutional, the court said. It is unacceptable that the state should invoke such a statute of limitations in this case.

The ruling is considered groundbreaking because it can affect ongoing and future lawsuits relating to the so-called Eugenics Protection Law. The law in Japan was in force from 1948 to 1996. It was primarily aimed at people with mental disabilities or disorders as well as hereditary diseases. According to official figures, around 25,000 people were sterilized under the law, at least 16,000 of them without their consent.

According to Kyodo, the country’s highest court ruled the law unconstitutional for the first time. The plaintiffs had previously filed a lawsuit in five different district courts, including in Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe. The focus now was on whether a 20-year statute of limitations could be applied after four of the other courts had already upheld the plaintiffs’ claims. The court in Sendai, on the other hand, ruled that a statute of limitations did apply.

In April 2019, a law came into force that provided for the state to pay compensation of 3.2 million yen (about 18,400 euros) to victims of forced sterilization. However, there was strong criticism, among other things, of a uniform amount.