Most of the missing were in their 20s, although the youngest, Megumi Yokota, was 13 when she disappeared in November 1977, from the Japanese west coast city of Niigata. The North Korean government claims that she committed suicide in March 1994.
It is believed that the victims were abducted to teach Japanese language and culture at North Korean spy schools. Older victims were also abducted for the purpose of obtaining their identities, but these abductees are believed to have been killed immediately. It is also speculated that Japanese women were abducted to have them become wives to a group of North Korea-based Japanese terrorists after a 1970 Japan Airlines hijacking, and that some may have been abducted because they happened to witness North Korean agents in Japan, which may explain Yokota's abduction.
For a long time, these abductions were denied by North Korea and were often considered a conspiracy theory. Despite pressure from Japanese parent groups, the Japanese government itself took no action. There are also claims that this issue is now being used by Japanese nationalists, including former Prime Minister Shinz? Abe, to "further militarize", push for revision of the Constitution in order to allow Japan to have an army, revise the Basic Education Law and forward other political goals. However, such claims have been criticized by Kyoko Nakayama, the special adviser in Tokyo to the Japanese prime minister on the abduction issue, who said "This is about rescuing our citizens (from ongoing abduction). They deserve all possible support to regain their freedom and dignity. It is our duty to retrieve them."