A Japanese court ordered the government on Friday to pay 370 million yen ($3.4 million) in damages to the relatives of former leprosy patients over a segregation policy that severed family ties and caused long-lasting prejudice.
Kumamoto District Court ruled that the segregation violated the human rights of the patients and their relatives.
The 561 plaintiffs demanded 5.5 million yen ($52,000) each for financial and psychological suffering because of bullying and discrimination in education, jobs and marriage.
The court ruled that the government failed to stop the segregation until 1996, decades after leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, became curable in the late 1940s.
More than 12,000 leprosy patients were kept at 14 isolated sanatoriums across the country. About 1,500 remain at the facilities today with their ties to families and society severed.
In the ruling, Judge Kotaro Endo said Japan’s parliament, through legislative negligence, destroyed the families and caused tremendous damage to their lives.
Nobuko Harada, 75, is among the relatives. She said one day 68 years ago, a group of health officials suddenly came to her house, took away her father and spread antiseptic powder everywhere.
She said bullying started immediately. Her classmates at elementary school told her she was contagious and threw dirty rags at her. Her mother lost her job, and they lived on meager profits from peddling seafood. After she married at 17, her husband became abusive after she told him about her father.
“I’ve never had a happy moment in my life,” she told NHK public television. “But my heart has cleared today like sunshine after a rain.”
A 2001 court decision found the segregation policy unconstitutional and prompted government reparations, but only to former patients. Harada’s father died at age 90 without hearing the ruling.
Harada thought it was unfair that there was no pity for the patients’ families, who also suffered because of the segregation. She decided to file a lawsuit, joined by hundreds of others.
More than 12,000 leprosy patients were kept at 14 isolated sanatoriums across the country. About 1,500 remain at the facilities today with their ties to families and society severed. In addition to the segregation policy, many were forcibly sterilized.
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