The Japanese government on Thursday launched a "summit" of junior high school students across Japan in order to bring greater attention to North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

With only five of the 17 officially recognized abductees having been returned almost two decades ago and with Tokyo and Pyongyang at a deadlock over the others, the government wants to create momentum toward a resolution, in the hope that the young people who take part will spread greater awareness through their communities.

"People uniting and showing a strong determination to have all the abductees return home as soon as possible will help resolve this issue," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who is also the minister in charge of the issue.

Takuya Yokota, head of a group representing the families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, speaks at a government-launched summit of junior high school students in Tokyo on Aug. 10, 2023. (Kyodo)

Matsuno said he is sorry the government has been unable to secure the return of a single abductee from North Korea since the first five came home in 2002.

"By participating in the summit, I want you to know more about the serious abuse of human rights that has taken place and think deeply about personal dignity," he said at the summit, in which around 60 students took part.

Takuya Yokota, the head of a group representing the families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, also spoke at the event. His sister Megumi was abducted in 1977 at age 13.

"The moment you think this problem is somebody else's is when you allow human rights to be violated. I really want you to speak to your friends and families about this," he said.

Student participants had been chosen by their prefectural and local school boards, but some were unable to attend due to a powerful typhoon that has rocked southwest and west Japan.

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