The Yomiuri ShimbunFormer Hansen’s disease patients were not the only victims of fierce discrimination and prejudice based on the disease, also known as leprosy. A recent court decision takes a serious view of the damage that was also suffered by their family members.
The Kumamoto District Court has ordered the government to pay a total of ¥376 million in compensation to about 500 family members of former Hansen’s disease patients. It is the first court ruling that has ordered state compensation due to holding the government’s quarantine policy responsible for generating discrimination against the family members.
Despite the fact that the infectiousness of Hansen’s disease is extremely low, the government continued the isolation policy until it abolished the Leprosy Prevention Law in 1996.
In 2001, the Kumamoto District Court ruled the quarantine policy to be unconstitutional. The government established the Hansen’s disease compensation law and paid compensation to former patients, with the maximum amount being ¥14 million per patient. But their family members were not entitled to compensation. It can be seen that the latest ruling calls for extending the scope of redress to family members.
The anguish suffered by family members is huge. Children who were separated from parents with Hansen’s disease lost opportunities for contact with them. The children were barred from attending school and were often discriminated against later in life regarding employment and marriage.
It makes sense that the ruling said, “The damage continues in their lifetimes and the disadvantages they suffer are serious.”
In its latest ruling, the district court pointed out that a false perception that “Hansen’s disease is a dreadful infectious disease” was inculcated among the people due to the state isolation policy. The ruling has determined that this augmented the sense of exclusion against family members of patients.
Disseminate correct info
Furthermore, the court concluded that the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which is in charge of carrying out a policy to deal with Hansen’s disease, stopped short of taking measures to eliminate discrimination, including the dissemination of correct knowledge about the disease. It also criticized the Justice Ministry and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry for failing to provide sufficient enlightenment and education on human rights.
The ruling has thus cast a stern eye on what was done by the government offices concerned.
The important thing is to eliminate from society discrimination and prejudice against not only former Hansen’s disease patients but also their family members.
The plaintiffs include one whose wife asked him for a divorce because his parent’s disease was made known after the lawsuit was filed. More than a few of the plaintiffs could not tell their families that they were among the plaintiffs. Most of the plaintiffs did not reveal their real names.
This is evidence that discrimination remains deep-seated.
It was learned in 2014 that elementary school children who had received misinformation about Hansen’s disease in a classroom lesson wrote their impressions that it is “fearful” and that “if a friend of mine suffers the disease, I’ll keep my distance from that friend.”
Efforts should be made continuously in all sectors of society, including workplaces and community associations, in addition to the educational field, to disseminate correct information on Hansen’s disease and dispel prejudice against those affected by it.