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Human Rights Group Tells Japan to Stop Sterilizing Trans Citizens

Fumino Sugiyama
Human Rights Watch

An outdated law comes under new scrutiny leading into the 2020 Olympics.

An international civil rights group has issued a new report asking Japan to immediately end an outdated law requiring trans people to be surgically sterilized.

In the 84-page report, "A Really High Hurdle: Japan's Abusive Transgender Legal Recognition Process," the group documents human rights abuses against those seeking recognition fo their gender, but who must also undergo irreversible medical procedures to obtain it.

"Japan should uphold the rights of transgender people and stop forcing them to undergo surgery to be legally recognized," said Kanae Doi, Japan director for Human Rights Watch. "The law is based on an outdated premise that treats gender identity as a so-called 'mental illness' and should be urgently revised."

Human Rights Watch also released a video spotlighting the personal story of Fumino Sugiyama, a trans man who has undergone a mascectomy and other surgeries as part of his transition, but has not had a removal of ovaries. The government requires him to carry a legal ID demarking his identity as female, which the group calls "regressive and harmful."

Japan only recognizes trans identities as a mental health condition, and since 2004 has enforced such outdated policies through its Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act. The law states that if a person is seeking to change a gender marker, is currently single and under the age of 20 then they must complete a psychiatric evaluation.

Afterwards, if the individuals is then diagnosed with gender identity disorder, they are sterilized, according to the report.

The United Nations issued a special rapporteur on torture in 2013 stating any requirements involving sterilization surgeries in order to obtain legal recognition of their gender is a direct violation of human rights.

"Japan's government needs urgently to address and fundamentally revise the legal recognition process that remains anchored to a diagnostic framework that fails to meet international standards and has been roundly criticized and discredited worldwide," the report states.

"Of course I want to change the gender on my official family register, and have relationships with my significant other," said a Tokyo trans woman within the report. "But the walls that I have to overcome are just too big."

The special report arrives as Japan prepares for the 2020 Olympics, and the organization's Japan director says overturning this policy is a crucial step before the Games begin.

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