Child abuse cases nationwide topped 70,000 mark for first time last year

Kyodo

The number of child abuse cases handled by child consultation centers across the nation in fiscal 2013, which ended March 31, stood at 73,765, topping the 70,000 mark for the first time since the government began compiling data in fiscal 1990, the government said Monday.

The data, released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, covered cases handled by the 207 child consultation centers which are run by prefectural and major city governments.

Efforts to uncover cases of child abuse seem to have produced an increase in the preliminary data of 10.6 percent from the previous fiscal year, ministry officials said.

In line with a notice in August last year, cases of the siblings of children suspected of being abused are now also looked into, while police have reported more cases of child abuse in relation to domestic violence against their mothers, they said.

Under the 2000 law on the prevention of child abuse, the figures have included children who suffered psychological damage after seeing acts of domestic violence in their homes.

By prefecture, Osaka ranked top among the country’s 47 prefectures with the number of child abuse cases standing at 10,716, followed by Kanagawa Prefecture with 9,803, Tokyo with 5,414 and Chiba Prefecture with 5,374.

Heads of child consultation centers filed suits with family courts seeking the suspension of parental rights for up to two years in 23 cases in 16 municipalities, down by four from the previous fiscal year, when the system was launched.

Family courts issued orders to suspend parental rights in 15 of those 23 cases. Of the remaining eight cases, the heads of child consultation centers withdrew their suits in five cases and family courts have yet to issue verdicts in the three others.

The 15 cases in which family courts suspended parental rights included one in which the parents refused to allow a blood transfusion for their child who was suffering from leukemia, and another in which the parents canceled procedures for a kidney transplant for their child who required one.

Others included children who were sexually abused by their fathers or their mothers’ boyfriends.

Local child consultation center officials in charge of the matter say a shortage of manpower is a chronic problem in dealing with child abuse cases.

The welfare ministry has a guideline that children’s safety should be confirmed within 48 hours of a report on suspected child abuse case, but many at the centers say this is difficult to achieve because of shortages of staff.

Officials of the Shiga Prefectural Government’s child consultation center said it takes three hours by car to reach the most remote areas of eight municipalities under its control.

Officials of the Kagoshima Prefectural Government’s central child consultation center said that, in many cases, they are unable to confirm the safety of children with only one visit. Their request to increase the number of staff is turned down due to a trend to cut down on the number of civil servants.

In Osaka, where two children died from hunger in 2010, the city government’s child consultation center now has two officials on duty every night. “The change is a bigger burden on us, but it’s better that we can deal with urgent matters (with increased staff),” one official said.

The number of child counselors deployed at child consultation centers nationwide stood at 2,771 in April 2013, an increase of 1.6 times over 2003, the welfare ministry said.

Keiji Goto, lawyer and the head of nonprofit organization Think Kids, said child consultation centers, municipal governments and police should better coordinate their efforts in sending out staff to each suspected case of child abuse and should frequently visit such families to confirm the safety of children.

“Putting top priority on children’s safety is important, by taking children out from their families for temporary care . . . or providing more welfare services for parents as poverty is one of the causes of child abuse,” he said.

The central government provides funds to local governments to hire child counselors according to the population. But the local governments are also free to spend such funds, so they do not necessarily lead to an increase of the number of child counselors, ministry officials said.