3. Major Human Rights Problems

(1) Women

The philosophy of gender equality is stipulated in the Japanese Constitution and the principle of gender equality has been legislatively established by the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and other laws. In reality, however, fixed ideas on gender roles such as that the man should work outside and the woman should remain at home are deeply-rooted in society even today and cause various kinds of gender discrimination in homes and at workplaces.

In addition, violence against women, such as abuse by a husband or partner, sexual harassment in the workplace and sex crimes, is one of the most important problems concerning women's rights.

With regard to these women's human rights issues, the Gender Equality Plan was formulated in December 2000 and the Council for Gender Equality and the Gender Equality Bureau were established in the Cabinet Office in January 2001. Other measures have also been taken such as the Law for the Prevention of Spousal Abuse and the Protection of Victims enforced in October 2001 and the “Campaign for Eliminating Violence against Women” which has been held for two weeks from November 12 to 25 every year since 2001.

(Note) Establishment of a Liaison Network of Government Entities Involved in Formulating Steps to Counter Human Trafficking

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation or for forced labor violates fundamental human rights and is a serious problem also from a humanitarian viewpoint.

In Japan, the Liaison Network of Government Entities Involved in Formulating Steps to Counter Human Trafficking was established in the Cabinet Office on April 5, 2004 for close coordination of related ministries and agencies and for cooperation with international societies so that necessary measures to eliminate the problem and to protect victims can be promoted immediately and consistently.

(2) Children

Tragic incidents involving child victims show no sign of decline. Children should be respected as human beings and should be protected.

Regarding the rights of children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted at the 1989 United Nations General Assembly for the purpose of respecting children's rights and freedom and promoting child protection and assistance. Japan also ratified this Convention in April 1994 and is assertively making efforts to solve children's rights problems.

1) Bullying

Children's bullying today is becoming more and more serious. The methods have tended to become more extreme and persistent and insidious bullying is on the increase. Bullying may cause suicides or result in severe injuries or death and it is necessary to recognize bullying as a serious human rights infringement.

With regard to the causes and background of children who commit bullying or who turn a blind eye to bullying, there are problems caused by complicated, interlinked factors surrounding the children at school, at home or in the social environment, and the recent trends of nuclear families. It seems, however, that the root of the problem is weakening of the consciousness for respect for human rights and compassion and kindness towards others. To solve this problem, it is important to nurture the consciousness for human rights to respect the differences of others as individuals.

2) Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment by teachers is clearly prohibited in Article 11 of the School Education Law, but there still are many human rights infringements using corporal punishment.

It is also considered that corporal punishment may be a model of bullying or create an atmosphere tolerating violence in school and may be a factor causing or promoting children's bullying or truancy.

3) Problems of Child Abuse, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography

Recently, many tragic incidents are taking place where parents or other adults abuse or severely scold infants or children and in some cases cause death. In addition, commercialized sexual exploitation of children such as child prostitution or children's sexual abuse inside and outside of Japan and the flood of child pornography on the Internet have become serious problems worldwide.

To solve these problems, strict efforts have been made such as establishment of the Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and for Protecting Children, enforced on November 1, 1999 and the Child Abuse Prevention Law, enforced on November 20, 2000.

(Note) Volunteers for Children's Rights Protection

Children's rights problems such as bullying, corporal punishment by teachers, abuse by parents, have become grave social problems. The Ministry of Justice established in 1994 the Volunteers for Children's Rights Protection who exclusively deal with problems affecting children's rights. The volunteers are selected from among the human rights volunteers appointed by the Minister of Justice, and, by sending out various questionnaires and establishing the “Children's Rights Hotline”, they strive to collect information on children's rights in addition to promoting cooperation with the PTA, Kodomokai (Children's Neighborhood Association), and the Commissioner for Children to identity signs of abuse as soon as possible in order to solve the problems.

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(3) Elderly Persons

“I wish to continue to contribute to society using my knowledge and experience”, “I wish to communicate with local people” and “I wish to enjoy my hobbies” are desires voiced by the elderly. With the aim of building a society where elderly persons can live actively, it is necessary to improve understanding towards elderly persons and to nurture respect for them.

Due to the dramatic extension of the average life expectancy and the declining birth rate, Japanese society is rapidly aging, and it is said that about one fourth of the population in 2015 will be elderly persons aged 65 or over. Accordingly, the human rights problems of elderly persons, such as the caretaker's physical or psychological abuse of those who need care because of illness, job discrimination against elderly persons, and financial abuse such as when family members transfer the deed to real estate or postal or bank savings without asking for permission, have begun to draw attention as serious social problems.

At the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on October 16, 1992, a resolution was adopted that 1999 would be the International Year of Older Persons. In Japan, with regard to the Basic Plan of Measures for the International Year of Older Persons, an agreement was made among related ministries and agencies on July 14, 1998. In addition, the Basic Law on Measures for an Aging Society was enforced in December 1995, and according to the law, the government formulated in July 1996 an “Outline of Measures for an Aging Society” which gave comprehensive and basic guidelines for the government's measures toward elderly persons. It was reexamined taking the economic and social conditions thereafter into consideration and a new Outline of Measures for an Aging Society was approved at a Cabinet meeting in December 2001.

(4) Persons with Disabilities

To create a comfortable society equal for everyone, including persons with disabilities, in addition to various measures taken by the State and local public entities, it is necessary for all people in society to fully understand and think about persons with disabilities.

In Japan, based on the “New Long-Term Plan for Persons with Disabilities - Aiming at a Society Where Everyone Can Participate” formulated in March 1993 and on the “Government Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities - a Seven-Year Normalization Strategy” formulated in December 1995, measures for persons with disabilities have been promoted, and one of its basic philosophies is normalization aiming at a society where a person with a disability can live an ordinary life in the local community in the same way as a person without a disability.

Under the present circumstances, however, cases where people in wheelchairs are denied access to shops or not allowed to rent an apartment happen, and thus the understanding of the people and consideration for persons with disabilities are insufficient. As a result, people with disabilities cannot be independent and are prevented from participating in society, and in this respect a society enabling coexistence has not been fully realized.

The new “Basic Plan for Persons with Disabilities” and the “Five-Year Plan for Priority Policies” were formed in December 2002 and measures for persons with disabilities have been promoted.

The human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice have been working on various human rights promotion activities to further establish the philosophy of normalization among the people and to further promote the independence and participation in society of persons with disabilities.

(5) Dowa Issues

Owing to discrimination which had been formed based on the structure of social status in the course of the historical development of Japanese society, some Japanese people have been forced to accept a lower status economically, socially and culturally, and they are subject to various kinds of discrimination in their daily lives even today. This is the Dowa issue, which is a unique Japanese human rights problem.

To solve the problem, the State, together with local public entities, has worked for 33 years since 1969 on regional improvements based on the Law for Special Measures for Dowa Projects. As a result, physical infrastructure developments to solve the poor environment of Dowa districts has achieved steady results and the regional disparity with other districts has become considerably smaller.

However, discrimination in marriage and employment has not ended. The State is assertively promoting measures to solve Dowa issues and the human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice have also been developing affirmative human rights promotion activities aiming at resolving such problems.

(6) Ainu People

Ainu people have an original and rich culture such as their own language, traditional ceremonies and rituals, and oral literature (Yukara), but due to integration policies taken in modern times, preservation and the handing down of traditions have not been sufficiently taken care of in the present day. People who understand the Ainu language and can carry on the traditions in particular are aging so that important foundations needed to continue the culture show signs of diminishing.

In addition, because other people do not understand the Ainu people very much, there still exist prejudice and discrimination towards them in employment and marriage.

The human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice have been taking various human rights promotion measures to improve understanding and recognition of Ainu people and to eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

(7) Foreign Nationals

The number of foreign nationals who live in Japan has dramatically increased of late, and it exceeded 1.91 million in 2003. Due to differences in language, religion, customs and other factors, various human rights problems regarding foreigners have arisen.

For example, some house owners or real estate agencies do not let foreign nationals rent apartments. Some public bathhouses reject all foreign nationals for the reason, they say, that foreign nationals do not have good manners in public baths, and groundless rumors about foreign nationals have spread. It is necessary for people to understand and respect foreigners' customs and to eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

In the summit meeting between North Korea and Japan in September 2002, North Korea formally admitted they had abducted Japanese people, and since then cases of harassment, intimidation and violence toward South and North Korean residents in Japan have occurred. The human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice therefore appealed to prevent harassment by distributing pamphlets and fliers and putting up posters along the school routes that many pupils and students of South and North Korean families use.

(8) HIV Carriers, Hansen's Disease Patients

At present, correct knowledge and understanding about infections such as AIDS (HIV) and Hansen's disease are insufficient in Japan. There are such problems as patients or former patients of these diseases being discriminated against or suffering from invasion of privacy in their daily lives, at workplaces, hospitals or clinics, due to incorrect knowledge or the prejudice of the people around them.

With regard to AIDS (HIV), outside of sexual contact, there is almost no possibility of being infected in daily life.

Regarding Hansen's disease, it is not a genetic disease. Although it is contagious, there is a low risk of contagion from its bacteria, and it is rare to contract the disease even if the bacteria is acquired. In the event of contracting the disease, there will be no after-effects as long as treatment is taken early on.

The case in November 2003 of a hotel in Kumamoto Prefecture rejecting people living in a Hansen's disease sanatorium highlighted that there still remains incorrect knowledge and prejudice. Therefore, the human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice has been conducting various human rights promotion activities such as advertisements in national newspapers to raise awareness on correct knowledge of Hansen's disease and to eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

(9) Persons Released From Prison after Serving Their Sentence

Prejudice and discrimination toward persons released from prison after serving their sentences and their families are deeply rooted and they face discrimination in employment or difficulties in finding residences, and therefore conditions are quite severe for those people who try to reintegrate into society.

In order to ensure a peaceful, social life as a member of the local community, it is necessary for a person released from prison after serving his or her sentence to have the understanding and cooperation of his or her family, workplace, and local community as well as a strong desire on the part of the person for change. It is important therefore to promote human rights promotion activities to eliminate people's prejudice and discrimination and to seek cooperation from related organizations to help persons released from prison gain independence.

(10) Crime Victims

Recently, public concern for the human rights of crime victims and their families has increased. It has been pointed out that the crime victims have not only been damaged psychologically and economically by the crime itself and its after effects but have also suffered other injuries such as defamation through rumors and mindless slander or disturbance of the peace of private life. The State has established a system considering the feelings of crime victims from the viewpoint of criminal justice and is promoting measures to provide assistance. In addition, the human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice are conducting human rights promotion activities to consider and protect the rights of crime victims.

(11) Human Rights Infringements via the Internet

Various human rights problems damaging the reputation and privacy of individuals have been taking place on the Internet by abusing its anonymity. It is necessary to use the Internet correctly and to eliminate human rights infringement via the Internet.

The population of Internet users in Japan has been increasing annually and was 77.3 million at the end of 2003. In accordance with such spread of the use of the Internet, due to its anonymity and capability of sending information with ease, various human rights problems have arisen such as infringement of individual reputations and publication of harmful information or of expressions, which promote discrimination. Therefore, it is necessary to carry out human rights promotion activities for general Internet users and providers to promote their correct understanding concerning individual reputations and privacy.

With regard to malicious infringements of human rights via the Internet, the human rights organs of the Ministry of Justice strive to act appropriately, such as by requesting providers to delete such information voluntarily.

(12) Homeless

There are many people who have become homeless for unavoidable reasons in spite of a desire to remain independent and they cannot lead healthy and social lives, and many human rights infringements against homeless people are taking place such as harassment and violence. Therefore, the Law on Special Measures to Support the Independence of the Homeless was formulated in July 2002 and, based on the law, the Basic Policies Concerning Support for the Independence of the Homeless were formulated in July 2003.

Various measures are to be taken to support the independence of homeless people, but it is also necessary to take the rights of neighboring residents into consideration when carrying out human rights promotion activities to eliminate the prejudice and discrimination toward homeless people.

(13) Sexual Preferences

Sexual preferences refers to the object of one's sexual interest. It specifically means heterosexual when the object of the sexual interest is a member of the opposite sex, homosexual when the object is of the same sex, and bisexual when the object is of both sexes.

Since homosexual and bisexual people are of a minority there is a tendency for them not to be considered normal and they may even be forced out of their workplaces. Although discrimination based on such sexual preferences is acknowledged as unjust these days, prejudice and discrimination have still been taking place, and, therefore, it is necessary to carry out human rights promotion activities to protect the rights of homosexuals and bisexuals.

(14) Persons with Gender Identity Disorders

Gender identity disorder means a state where a person's biological sex (the sex of the body) and the self-aware sex (the sex of the conscious) are not one and the same and this may interfere with the person's social life. Persons with gender identity disorders have been subjected to prejudice in society and have been discriminated against in various areas such as promotions in their workplaces.

The Law for Special Measures for the Treatment of Gender for People with Gender Identity Disorders was promulgated in July 2003 and was enforced in July 2004. Through this law, a person with a gender identity disorder who satisfies certain conditions is able to get a legal decision on a change in his or her officially recognized gender. It is necessary to carry out human rights promotion activities to eliminate prejudice and discrimination based on gender identity disorders.

<Reference> UN Decade for Human Rights Education

In the 49th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1994, a resolution was adopted that the decade from 1995 to 2004 would be the UN Decade for Human Rights Education.

The United Nations resolution asks each country to draw up a domestic plan of action. In Japan, the Headquarters for the Promotion of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, headed by the Prime Minister, was established in December 1995 and the National Action Plan for the UN Decade for Human Rights Education was formed in July 1997 to promote human rights education on every occasion, to handle important human rights problems, and to promote international cooperation, and numerous efforts are being made in accordance with this plan.

<Reference> The Basic Plan for Human Rights Education and Encouragement

Based on Article 7 of the Law on the Development of Human Rights Education and Encouragement (enforced in 2000), the Basic Plan for Human Rights Education and Encouragement was formulated in March 2002.

The Basic Plan lists up policies to develop human rights education and encouragement, measures from the universal viewpoint of human rights in general, measures against specific human rights problems and training for people who are engaged in certain occupations that are closely related to human rights.

The listed problems which need to be tackled accordingly are women, children, elderly people, persons with disabilities, the Dowa issue, Ainu people, foreigners, HIV carriers and Hansen's disease patients, persons released from prison after serving their sentence, crime victims, and human rights infringements via the Internet. In addition, the plan states that, in order to promote the plan, cooperation among related ministries and agencies is necessary and further, it is of vital importance to cooperate with related organizations such as local public entities and to follow up on the plan through annual reports.

With the aim bringing citizens closer to human rights protection activities and of increasing the effectiveness of promotion and publicity activities,the Human Rights Organs created campaign characters for human rights (designed by YANASE TAKASHI,a cartoonist ),and started using them for wide-ranging promotion and publicity activities.

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With the aim bringing citizens closer to human rights protection activities and of increasing the effectiveness of promotion and publicity activities,the Human Rights Organs created campaign characters for human rights (designed by YANASE TAKASHI,a cartoonist ),and started using them for wide-ranging promotion and publicity activities.