Japan's government has apologised to tens of thousands of people who were forcibly sterilised under a now-defunct eugenics law, designed to "prevent the birth of poor-quality descendants", and promised to pay compensation.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga offered "sincere remorse and heartfelt apology" to the victims. It came after parliament enacted legislation to provide redress measures, including 3.2 million yen (€25,500) compensation for each victim.
An estimated 25,000 people were given unconsented sterilisation while the 1948 Eugenics Protection Law was in place until 1996.
The law, which allowed doctors to sterilise people with disabilities, was quietly renamed as the Maternity Protection Law in 1996 when the discriminatory condition was removed.
The redress legislation acknowledges that many people were forced to have operations to remove their reproductive organs or radiation treatment to be sterilised, causing them tremendous pain mentally and physically.
Health, labour and welfare minister Takumi Nemoto said that as head of the department in charge of the compensation, he will do his utmost to provide the one-time redress money for entitled recipients, many of them ageing and handicapped, as soon as possible.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe, in a statement issued hours later, said the scandal should never be repeated: "We will do all we can to achieve a society where no one is discriminated against, whether they have illnesses or handicaps, and live together while respecting each other's personality and individuality."
The government had until recently maintained the sterilisations were legal at the time.
The apology and the redress law follow a series of lawsuits by victims who came forward recently after breaking decades of silence. That prompted legislators from ruling and opposition parties to draft a compensation package to make amends for the victims.
The plaintiffs are seeking about 30 million yen each (€241,700) in growing legal actions that are spreading around the country, saying the government's implementation of the law violated victims' right to self-determination, reproductive health and equality.
They say the government redress measures are too small for their suffering.
In addition to the forced sterilisations, more than 8,000 others were sterilised with consent, though likely under pressure, while nearly 60,000 women had abortions because of hereditary illnesses.
The redress law does not cover those who had to abort their pregnancy, 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 already offered compensation and an apology to them for its forced isolation policy.