02/25/2017, 14.00
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Tokyo, past forced sterilisations and today’s demographic winter

Approximately 25,000 sterilisations and 60,000 forced abortions were performed under the Eugenic Protection Act, which was abolished in 1996. Some call for an official apology and compensation for the victims. Japan’s grave demographic crisis requires new policies to promote life.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a written statement on Wednesday challenging the now abolished Eugenic Protection Act, which allowed abortions and sterilisations for people with disabilities and hereditary illnesses.

Adopted in 1948, the Eugenic Protection Act set out to "prevent the birth of imperfect descendants". The Federation wants the government to conduct a full investigation into the damage caused by the law as well as issue an official apology for it and pay compensation to those who were forced to undergo the aforementioned procedures.

According to the records available to the Federation, approximately 25,000 sterilisations and 60,000 abortions were performed during the period in which the Act was in force.

Following criticism for the violation of the reproductive rights of disabled persons, the law was amended in 1949, but some local authorities continued to enforce it because of legalised discrimination against people with physical and mental handicaps. Under the current Maternal Health Act passed in 1996, eugenics provisions were removed.

“Decisions concerning reproduction should be made freely based on the intentions of those involved," the statement said. Sterilisation and abortions performed on people with disabilities and hereditary diseases "trampled on their dignity and infringed on their individual reproductive rights, and are unconstitutional," it went on to say.

In March 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that the Japanese government carry out an investigation into the damage caused by the law and offer compensation to those affected. The government responded saying that the Eugenic Protection Act was "implemented legitimately and compensation would be difficult."

In recent decades, Japan, a nation with a long history of eugenics laws, has been facing a major demographic crisis. Its aging population and low birth rate, among the worst in the world, are currently the country’s most urgent problem and might lead to the collapse of its pension and welfare systems.

The government has called on people to have more babies and tried to address the problem with policies designed to boost the birth rate. However, it is difficult to ascertain whether these efforts will lead to substantial results on the short run.

Once a land of eugenics, forced abortions and sterilisations, Japan today sees its destiny tied to the protection and promotion of life.

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