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Japan still forces sterilization of trans people, according to Human Rights Watch

'Forcing people to undergo unwanted surgeries to obtain documentation is contrary both to Japan’s human rights obligations and its reputation as a champion of LGBT rights'

Japan still forces sterilization of trans people, according to Human Rights Watch
The first Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade in 2012

Japan has made some strides to protect its LGBTI citizens this year. One example is introducing an anti-bullying policy to protect LGBTI students. However, the country still has a long way to go.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the country still forces transgender people to be sterilized as part of its legal gender recognition procedure.

Earlier this year, a trans man challenged this law in court. He argued that the invasive sterilization procedure violates Japan’s constitutional guarantee of people’s right to be respected as individuals.

The law in question

Law No. 111, introduced in 2003, is the law that regulates legal gender recognition. According to this law, in order for a trans person to apply to secure legal recognition of their gender identity, they must be diagnosed with ‘Gender Identity Disorder,’ or GID.

In Japan, GID is defined as ‘a person, despite his/her biological sex being clear, who continually maintains a psychological identity with an alternative gender, who holds the intention to physically and socially conform to an alternative gender.’

The law requires a trans person to receive this diagnosis from two or more respected medical professionals.

The American Psychiatric Association removed GID from its mental health guide back in 2012. It was replaced with Gender Dysphoria, which describes the emotional distress of ‘a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender.’

After a trans person in Japan gets a GID diagnosis, the legal gender recognition decision is made by the family court. In addition to having the diagnosis, one must also be over 20 years old, be unmarried, not have any underage children, not ‘have gonads or permanently lack functioning gonads,’ have a body that is ‘endowed with genitalia that closely resemble the physical form of an alternative gender.’

So essentially, in order to officially be recognized by the government as their preferred gender, a trans person must be sterilized and undergo sex reassignment surgery.

The negative impact

‘While this legal recognition is a full legal transition from one gender to the other, court cases and research by Japanese nongovernmental organizations have revealed that in practice, even legally recognized transgender people face discrimination in, for example, adopting children and obtaining life insurance. That is to say, while Law No. 111 is on its own terms abusive, discriminatory and in need of reform, there is also a broader need to protect even those transgender people whose appropriate gender has been legally recognized from discrimination,’ HRW states.

‘The legal requirements for transgender people in Japan to obtain a GID diagnosis, involve unnecessary, arbitrary, and burdensome tests. The mandatory psychiatric evaluation and the law’s requirement that applicants be unmarried, sterile and lacking any children under 20 are inherently discriminatory.’

‘These conditions—and in particular the maltreatment many transgender people must accept in order to meet them— also amount to cruel and inhuman treatment and to a violation of transgender people’s right to health. The law forces all transgender people who want to secure legal recognition of their appropriate gender to secure diagnosis of a psychological disorder, to refrain from having children at any point during the two decades prior to securing recognition and to be unmarried. It forces many would-be applicants—including those who would not otherwise choose to take these steps— to undergo physically transformative surgical interventions, undergo sterilization, and contemplate the breakup of existing marriages.’

HRW notes that Law No. 111 is particularly harmful to transgender children due to the age requirement. For someone under 20 to have their gender identity recognized, it can be harder to get a GID diagnosis.

Past attempts to change the law

In 2016, a bipartisan group of members in Japan’s parliament were supposed to meet to consider revisions to Law No. 111. This meeting never happened.

In response to a 2016 letter from United Nations health professionals about Law No. 111, Japan’s Ministry of Health defended the law.

‘Forcing people to undergo unwanted surgeries to obtain documentation is contrary both to Japan’s human rights obligations and its reputation as a champion of LGBT rights,’ HRW writes. ‘The government should urgently revise Law 111 to end forced sterilization.’


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