Japan govt takes heat over girl's death as child abuse cases soar

The latest National Police Agency statistics show that the number of child abuse cases handled by the police last year topped 80,000 for the first time.
The latest National Police Agency statistics show that the number of child abuse cases handled by the police last year topped 80,000 for the first time.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Abe calls for emergency safety review of all suspected victims

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for an emergency review into the safety of all children who are suspected of being abused, as more harrowing details emerge from investigations by the authorities into the death of 10-year-old Mia Kurihara last month.

The move comes as figures last Thursday showed that Japanese police handled 80,104 child abuse cases last year, a significant 22.4 per cent spike from 2017 in the 14th straight year of increase.

Over a period of time, Mia was kicked, beaten, starved, deprived of sleep and made to stand for hours by her father - Yuichiro, 41.

The government has taken heat from many quarters, including the United Nations, over the botched handling of her case.

The authorities had been coerced by Yuichiro to tell him what the girl told her school about the abuse. Mia was also left in his care.

The day she died, her father had subjected her to "punishment" which lasted more than 12 hours - from 10am to 11.10pm, when the police were called in.

Yuichiro, who continues to insist that he was a disciplinarian but not a child abuser, said he called the police after Mia was knocked out cold during a scuffle while he was punishing her. He was arrested for inflicting bodily harm on his daughter, while his wife, Nagisa, 31, was held for abetting the violence.

  • 80,104

    Number of child abuse cases handled by Japanese police last year, a 22.4  per cent spike from 2017 in the 14th straight year of increase.

    57,326

    Number of cases involving psychological abuse, such as verbal threats, up 23.4 per cent from 2017.

    14,821

    Number of cases involving physical abuse (up 20.1 per cent).

    7,699

    Number of children who suffered neglect (up 20.3 per cent).

    258

    Number of children subjected to sexual abuse (up 2.8 per cent).

At an emergency ministerial meeting on Friday, Mr Abe said: "We cannot regret enough the fact that the school, education board, child welfare consultation centre and other adults could not pick up on a heartbreaking SOS call for help, and act to protect a young life."

Tokyo wants to confirm the safety of all suspected child abuse victims across Japan within one month, and to reassess whether the necessary steps have been taken for each child.

 
 
 

In the event that their safety cannot be ascertained, the child will be taken into protective custody by a child welfare consultation centre.

The latest National Police Agency statistics show that the number of child abuse cases handled by the police last year topped 80,000 for the first time.

Of these, 57,326 cases involved psychological abuse, such as verbal threats, up 23.4 per cent from 2017.

There were 14,821 cases of physical abuse, up 20.1 per cent.

Another 7,699 children suffered neglect (up 20.3 per cent), while 258 were subjected to sexual abuse (up 2.8 per cent).

Despite the surge in child abuse cases, only in 1,355 instances were the parents or guardians arrested and charged for inflicting harm on children. This indicates a societal preference for families to iron out their domestic issues. There is also a reluctance for the judiciary system to step in, especially in cases which may be hard to prove, such as when external injuries are absent.

Last Thursday, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on Tokyo to "prioritise the elimination of all forms of violence against children", noting "the high level of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of children" in the country.

Mr Abe and his Cabinet on Friday also pledged to take steps to improve information-sharing and coordination across the different authorities and municipalities to prevent cases like Mia's from falling through bureaucratic cracks.

To beef up its resources, the government plans to add 2,000 more child welfare workers to its current 3,200 by March 2023, though it has been difficult to hire trained experts.

But the Mainichi daily questioned in an editorial last Thursday if such measures were truly sufficient, noting that similar pledges to strengthen coordination have been made in the past.

"A thorough investigation should be carried out to identify problems in the centres, local governments and national government programmes," it said. "Pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom cannot protect children."

Officials from the Kashiwa child welfare consultation centre had sent Mia home after Yuichiro provided a statement ostensibly written by his daughter.

It has since emerged that she had been coerced by her father into writing the statement.

In it, she said: "It is not true that I was beaten by my father. I don't want to see people from the consultation centre any more, so do not come here."

On Jan 24, she was found dead in her bathroom.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 10, 2019, with the headline 'Japan govt takes heat over girl's death as child abuse cases soar'. Print Edition | Subscribe