TOKYO, July 12 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe on Friday apologized to both current and former leprosy patients and their families for the pain and suffering they endured under the country's now-defunct and discriminatory segregation policy.
"The government deeply reflects on the pain and suffering endured by current and former leprosy patients and their family members, and offers a heartfelt apology," Abe said in a Cabinet-endorsed statement on Friday.
"I myself would like to express this feeling by meeting with the family members," Abe also said, although Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that no dates have been fixed for such meetings.
The prime minister's apology follows a government decision on Tuesday that it would not appeal a court ruling handed down recently in Kumamoto Prefecture ordering the government to pay compensation to former leprosy patients' families.
The Kumamoto District Court in late June ordered the government to pay damages to the tune of around 370 million yen (about 3.4 million U.S. dollars) and in doing so ruling in favor of 541 plaintiffs.
The discrimination suffered by patients with leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, included forced social isolation in sanatoriums, or special "medical clinics" which was part of the standard practice to address the disease under the Japanese government's controversial segregation policy.
The ruling made by the Kumamoto District Court was the first ruling awarding compensation to family members.
The court also found illegality in Japan keeping its leprosy prevention law until 1966.
In terms of the family members of those with leprosy, the segregation policy meant that they also suffered, as they were sometimes not allowed to enter public places like schools, discriminated against when it came to finding jobs and struggled, due to the stigma, to find spouses.
A 801 court ruling found the segregation policy, brought into effect under the nation's leprosy prevention law enacted in 1907 and continued until 1996, was unconstitutional. Following the ruling, Japan introduced a compensation system for leprosy patients.
How swiftly the government's compensation will be awarded to the family members of former leprosy patients should be monitored, authorities on the matter said Friday.