Japan is set to ban the physical punishment of children under revised laws against child abuse that will be tabled in Parliament this month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday.
The government has come under fire for its apparent inaction that led to the deaths of two girls in under a year. Both had been abused under the name of "discipline". In its new law, the government is expected to clarify specifically what kind of actions will constitute corporal punishment.
In March last year, five-year-old Yua Funato died begging for her stepfather's approval. Her journal contained such entries as "please, please, please forgive me". And in January, 10-year-old Mia Kurihara died after being kicked, beaten, starved, deprived of sleep and made to stand for hours at a time by her father.
Laws against child abuse were last amended in 2016, but did not include any explicit ban on physical punishment. The move to further tighten the laws and protect children - increasingly a precious commodity amid the country's plunging birth rate - comes as the number of child abuse cases handled by the police has surged.
Mr Abe, who does not have any children, said he takes child abuse seriously as he told Parliament that the government "will do all we can to eradicate child abuse". He was replying to a question by lawmaker Mitsuru Sakurai, of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, who lamented that "young lives are being robbed by child abuse".
Mr Abe assured the Diet that his government is urgently working on such measures as "making corporal punishment illegal and giving child welfare workers more powers to temporarily take children into custody". The Mainichi daily, citing an outline of the planned revisions, reported that the government is also considering extending this ban to include child welfare workers and foster parents.
Number of child abuse cases investigated in Japan last year, up 22.4 per cent from the year before.
Number of cases in which parents or guardians were arrested and charged.
Also, the Welfare and Education ministries have said they will proactively share information with each other when suspected child abuse victims skip school for more than a week.
Last month, figures showed that Japanese police handled 80,104 child abuse cases last year - a significant 22.4 per cent jump from 2017 in what was the 14th straight year of increase. Of these, there were 14,821 cases of physical abuse, up 20.1 per cent.
But in only 1,355 cases were parents or guardians arrested and charged over inflicting harm on their children. This indicates both a societal preference to let families iron out their own domestic issues and a reluctance on the part of the judiciary to step in, especially in cases that may be difficult to prove.
Mr Abe also said that a month-long government emergency review of the safety of all suspected child abuse victims, which began on Feb 8, is due to end this Friday.
In another probe, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare last Thursday said that it had identified as potential victims of child abuse some 143 children, out of the 15,270 children who did not attend either nursery or elementary school or had not received health check-ups. Worryingly, it also said that it could not ascertain the safety of some 2,936 children nationwide - a vast majority of them being of pre-school age or below.
As national attention focused on horrific child abuse cases, the domestic media has begun picking up on a spate of arrests for child abuse across the nation.
Yesterday, public broadcaster NHK reported the arrest of Takashi Aminaka, 23, in north-eastern Ibaraki prefecture for the abuse of his three-year-old daughter in January. She is now under protective care.
Last week, also in Ibaraki, Komoriya Takayuki, 47, and his wife Mariko, 37, were reportedly arrested for hitting their eight-year-old son, whose teacher called the police after seeing the bruises on his face.
Takashi Ito, 45, was also reportedly arrested in Sendai, north-east Japan, for hitting his 12-year-old son over a two-week period in January. Ito, who has a history of child violence, reportedly turned himself in and sought help from a child counselling centre.