Child abuse cases hit record high

Report says Net-based juvenile prostitution, crime also up

A record 23,738 child abuse cases were filed by child consultation centers nationwide in fiscal 2002, according to a government report released Tuesday.

The Cabinet Office’s 2004 white paper on the status of youth says the number was up 1.9 percent from 23,274 cases the previous year.

By comparison, it notes that in calendar 2003, 166 children aged 19 or younger were victims in 157 child abuse cases handled by police, of whom 42 died.

The paper faults child consultation centers and other institutions for insufficient measures to help children and says the situation is dire.

“Child abuse remains an issue that society as a whole needs to urgently address,” it says.

In fiscal 2002, physical abuse accounted for almost half of the cases. Neglect by parents or guardians came next, accounting for about 40 percent of cases, followed by psychological and sexual abuse, according to the report.

It says more youths were victims of crimes connected to Internet dating sites in fiscal 2002, particularly in cases involving rape and murder.

By comparison, it says that in calendar 2003, police nationwide investigated cases involving 1,326 juvenile victims, up nine from the previous year.

Sex-related crimes, including prostitution, constituted the largest number of crimes connected with dating sites, with 722 victims, or 54.5 percent of the total.

The Web sites enable people to meet online and arrange dates, and the spread of mobile phones with Internet access is thought to have contributed to the increase in crime by making it easier for strangers to set up encounters with juveniles, it says.

Juvenile crime increased in fiscal 2002. The report says there were 144,404 juvenile criminal suspects in 2003, up 2,629, or 1.9 percent, from the previous year.

Theft was involved in 56.4 percent of the cases, followed by assault, threats and extortion at 9.9 percent, and murder, rape and other serious crimes at 1.5 percent, according to the report.

The report suggests the need to review the steps taken by authorities to investigate offenses in which the perpetrators are believed to be under the age of 14.

“The rights of police to investigate such offenses were unclear, and they have no authority for coercive investigations,” the report says.

It says the Justice Ministry is looking into defining what the limitations are for police investigating juvenile suspects.

Juvenile crimes have drawn renewed interest, particularly since an 11-year-old girl admitted to killing her 12-year-old classmate with a box cutter at a Nagasaki Prefecture elementary school earlier this month.

People under age 14 cannot be held criminally responsible under the Penal Code. They are instead subject to the Child Welfare Law.

In most situations, police refer the case to a child consultation office, which decides whether to send the case to a family court or place the youth directly into a correctional facility.