The Japanese government must compensate victims of ‘sterilization law’

The Supreme Court of Japan has declared that the Eugenic Protection Law, abolished in 1996, is unconstitutional, and mandated that the government compensate individuals who were sterilized under this law.
On July 3rd, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that the Eugenic Protection Law, which was repealed in 1996 after nearly half a century of enforcement, violated the constitution. This marks the 13th instance since World War II that Japan’s Supreme Court has declared a law unconstitutional.
This law had permitted the Japanese government to forcibly sterilize individuals with mental disorders, genetic diseases, leprosy, or physical disabilities. It also authorized compulsory abortions if either parent suffered from any of these conditions.
“The social context at the time of enactment does not justify the Eugenic Protection Law,” Chief Justice Saburo Tokura stated in the ruling.
“The law inflicted severe reproductive harm, contravening the respect for individual dignity and uniqueness, and violating Article 13 of the Japanese Constitution,” he added, referring to the right of every Japanese citizen to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
When this law was enacted in 1948, Japanese legislators deemed it a necessary measure to “prevent an increase in inferior descendants from the perspective of eugenics, while also protecting the lives and health of mothers.”
Japanese officials have recorded approximately 25,000 forced sterilizations under the Eugenic Protection Law from 1948 to 1996.
For years, the Japanese government argued that it bore no responsibility for compensation, citing the long passage of time since the sterilizations occurred. However, in 2019, the government introduced a remedial law, proposing compensation of 3.2 million yen (around $19,800) for each victim.
Victims, their families, and social activist groups have argued that this compensation is inadequate, continuing their fight for justice.
There have been five lawsuits filed in four prefectures—Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, and Osaka—presented to the Supreme Court of Japan. In four of these cases, the Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings favoring the victims, ordering the government to pay about $102,000 to each plaintiff and $13,000 to their spouses.
In the remaining case, a lower court had dismissed the claim, citing the expiration of the 20-year statute of limitations. The Supreme Court overturned this decision, stating that applying the statute of limitations to victims of the Eugenic Protection Law was “unacceptable” and “severely contradicts principles of fairness and justice.” The Supreme Court directed the lower court to reassess the case and determine the appropriate compensation from the government.
The Supreme Court’s ruling paves the way for expedited compensation for many other victims of the Eugenic Protection Law. Among the 39 victims who have filed lawsuits over the years, six have passed away before the court reached its decision.
On July 3, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi expressed the government’s “regret” over the controversial law of the past century and extended an apology to the victims.
He stated that the government would swiftly proceed with compensation and consider additional measures, including organizing dialogues between the victims and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.