Reports of child abuse skyrocket; rise tied to greater public awareness

Child welfare centers nationwide handled a record 26,573 child abuse consultations in fiscal 2003, topping the previous year’s figure by some 2,800, according to data released Tuesday by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The total marked a 24-fold increase from the 1,101 cases brought to the attention of the centers in fiscal 1990, when the Health and Welfare Ministry began recording the data.

The number has been growing every year since fiscal 1990, increasing by about 1,000 a year from fiscal 1996 to fiscal 1998 and then rising at a pace of 4,000 to 6,000 annually until fiscal 2001.

The ministry said earlier that the growth in fiscal 2002, which topped the previous year’s record by about 460, was the smallest since fiscal 1990, and predicted the figure would level off or decline in fiscal 2003 and thereafter.

But the figure surged in fiscal 2003, which ended March 31. The ministry attributed the rise to greater public awareness of the problem due to news reports in January that a man and woman in Kishiwada, Osaka Prefecture, beat and starved the man’s 15-year-old son over a long period of time.

The couple were arrested Jan. 25 on suspicion of attempting to kill the boy by giving him almost no regular food for 1 1/2 years through last November. The boy fell into coma and was hospitalized in November. He is still comatose. A local child consultation center has been criticized for failing to take appropriate action to prevent the abuse.

According to the ministry, the total number of cases received by child welfare centers each month through last December was about the same as the corresponding month the previous year. But it increased sharply in January following reports on the Kishiwada incident.

The January figure increased by 33 percent from the same month in 2003. In February it increased 68 percent, while the March figure rose 78 percent.

The ministry plans to analyze the contents of the fiscal 2003 consultations in an effort to break down the cases into categories such as physical abuse, neglect and others, as well as victims’ age brackets.

The ministry said centers have become overwhelmed in dealing with the rise in child abuse consultations.