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IPPF ESEAOR Welcomes Landmark Ruling Declaring Japan's Forced Sterilisation Unconstitutional

IPPF ESEAOR welcomes Japan’s Supreme Court ruling that declares eugenics law practices unconstitutional; mandates government compensation for forced sterilisation survivors.

Kuala Lumpur, 5 July 2024 - The International Planned Parenthood Federation East, Southeast Asia, and Oceania Region (IPPF ESEAOR) welcomes the landmark ruling by Japan’s Supreme Court, declaring practices under the now-defunct eugenics law unconstitutional and ordering the government to pay damages to survivors of forced sterilisations.

This historic ruling by the nation’s highest court is a significant victory for the plaintiffs and about 25,000 others forcibly sterilised under the law. The court rejected the government’s argument about the 20-year statute of limitations, deeming it irrelevant in this case and setting an important precedent for survivors to come forward.

The Eugenic Protection Law (EPL), in place from 1948 to 1996, allowed authorities to forcibly sterilise people with disabilities, including those with mental health conditions, hereditary diseases, and leprosy. The law was repealed in 1996 after activists highlighted forced sterilisations at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, emphasising that reproductive rights are human rights and underscoring the need for bodily autonomy.

Tomoko Fukuda, IPPF ESEAOR Regional Director, stated: “This ruling is long overdue. The stories of those whose life decisions were forcibly taken away are heart-wrenching. This recognition by the Japanese government acknowledges horrific actions against humanity. It gives us hope that Japan is moving in the right direction for upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.”

Despite Japan's economic development and accessible healthcare, the country continues to lag in gender equality, as highlighted by the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2024. Ranked 118th out of 146 countries, Japan improved from the previous year’s rank of 125th but remains the lowest among the Group of Seven (G7) nations. This is due to long-standing issues such as the gender pay gap, low representation of women in politics and leadership roles, and barriers to sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

"Civil society, media, and the private sector must unite to amplify our voices and raise awareness. We must keep pressuring the government to pave the way for greater bodily autonomy and reproductive rights, ensuring meaningful change,” she emphasised.

In 2019, following more than two decades of advocacy to revise this discriminatory policy, parliament passed legislation granting ¥3.2 million ($20,000) in state compensation to each individual affected by forced sterilisation under the relief law. Survivors and activists argued that this amount was insufficient, given the severity of their suffering.

Building on this milestone, in 2023, a detailed 1,400-page report was submitted to parliament, revealing extensive findings into the law's enactment and impact. The probe, which began in 2020, uncovered about 16,500 people were sterilised against their will using deception and anaesthesia. Additionally, 8,500 individuals who ostensibly consented were likely coerced.

Consent rules gained attention last year when the health ministry approved Japan’s first abortion pill, the Mefeego pill pack by Linepharma, as an alternative to surgical procedures. The ministry stated that spousal consent laws still apply to abortion pills. The 1996 Maternal Health Act, which includes the spousal consent requirement, evolved from the 1948 Eugenic Protection Act, which legalised abortion.

Image/banner credit: Yuichi Yamazaki/AFP/Getty Images

Notes to editors:

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is a global healthcare provider and a leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. Led by a courageous and determined group of women, IPPF was founded in 1952, and today, it is a movement of 150 member associations and collaborative partners with a presence in over 146 countries. IPPF East & Southeast Asia and Oceania Region (ESEAOR), based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is one of IPPF’s six regional offices with a Sub Regional Office for the Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

For more information and media enquiries, contact:

Malarvili Meganathan,
Regional Communications, Voice & Media Advisor,
East, Southeast Asia and Oceania Region
[email protected]