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Japan probes 'forced sterilization' of disabled people

Govt plans research to better understand situation of people with disabilities and provide appropriate support
People with disabilities are seen at a center run by the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of People With Disabilities

People with disabilities are seen at a center run by the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of People With Disabilities. (Photo: jsprd.jp)

Published: January 26, 2023 08:43 AM GMT

Authorities in Japan have ordered local officials to investigate the alleged forced sterilization of people with disabilities following reports of malpractice by disability care service providers.

Katsunobu Kato, Health, Labor, and Welfare minister, told reporters during a Jan. 23 press conference that local governments have been directed to provide better support to individuals with disabilities, The Asahi Shimbun reported on Jan. 24.

“We have issued an administrative notice to secure and enhance a collaborative system among welfare for persons with disabilities, maternal and child health, and child welfare,” Kato said.

In a notice dated Jan. 20, the ministry ordered local authorities to immediately notify any organizations mandating sterilization or contraception as a condition to avail its services.

"No one should interfere with the free will and decision-making powers of individuals with disabilities"

Last December, local media reported that the Asunaro Social Welfare Service Corporation in Hokkaido, which caters to people with intellectual disabilities, mandated sterilization or other birth control measures for couples who intended to start a family or live together.

Reportedly, eight men among the couples have undergone a vasectomy at the recommendation of the care home authorities.

Kato said no one should interfere with the free will and decision-making powers of individuals with disabilities.

“It is extremely important to implement appropriate support based on the wishes of persons with disabilities, including marriage, childbirth, and child-rearing,” he said.

Kato also announced that the ministry is planning to research marriages, pregnancies, childbirths, and childrearing of people with disabilities to better understand their situation and provide appropriate support.

The research is expected to begin in the 2023 fiscal year.

The Hokkaido incident underlines the grim reality of the problems that persons with disabilities must endure to start a family and have children in Japan.

The care homes for disabled people do not have provisions for childcare and are designed for couples only. Moreover, they do not address the needs of people under 18 years old.

There are cases in Japan where people with disabilities live in apartment houses with their children.

Even though the government has provided a service that undertakes household chores, the coverage is deemed insufficient, local media reported.

Meanwhile, in other areas of Japan, individuals and organizations support disabled people.

For about two decades, Nanko Airin Kai, a social welfare corporation in Nagasaki Prefecture, has been providing livelihood and childcare support for disabled couples and partners.

The group provides support that is not covered under Japan’s welfare system.

Around 21 couples are receiving support from the group. Some of them live in a group home or are raising children with the help of volunteer staff members.

“We don’t want to say we can’t offer certain services because they are not covered by the system,” the Asahi Shimbun reported group member Mami Matsumura as saying.

“We want to support disabled people who want fulfilling lives,” the volunteer added.

As of 2021, there were approximately 600,000 people with disabilities employed in the private sector in Japan, Mainichi newspaper reported citing official sources. Among them, 60 percent had physical disabilities, 24 percent had intellectual disabilities and 16 percent suffered from mental impairments.

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