The number of child abuse cases has continued to rise since the National Police Force started to clamp down on suspected abuse and keep more accurate records four years ago. The police referred a record 17,224 suspected child abuse victims under the age of 18 to child consultation centers across the country in the first six months of this year.
That is the highest number since specific statistics started to be compiled in 2011 and a rise of 32 percent from the year before. Clearly, the police are doing a better job of investigating cases of abuse and of taking more action. They temporarily took protective custody of 1,152 children, also the highest number ever, because of danger to their lives and concern for their physical safety. The change seems an important, and positive shift, in police policy.
Psychologically abused children numbered 11,104, up 43 percent from the year before. The number of physically abused children totaled 3,882, up 12 percent, followed by 2,144 who faced negligence or neglect. Sexually abused children numbered 94, up 13 percent, and 14 children died from abuse. A report from 2012, however, put that year’s total child abuse deaths at 99, nearly half of which were part of collective suicides.
The most disturbing part of these statistics is that child abuse may not be actually increasing; it has just been hidden. In another survey from the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry for fiscal year 2012, the total number of reports about child abuse made to child social welfare services reached 46,468. Reports to authorities and actions by the police are both improvements that will help those children to escape from abuse.
More needs to be done, however. The Child Welfare Law states that anyone who finds a child who needs protection must report it, and the Child Abuse Prevention Law states that teachers, medical practitioners and child welfare officers are obliged to make an effort to detect and report abuse. Those adults who have the most contact with children need to be increasingly active, as has happened with the problem of bullying, and report suspected abuse. Japan needs to strengthen financial support for child consultation centers to ensure that there are enough employees to handle the increased numbers of abuse cases.
The central government should also consider a review of parental rights in these cases. Only a handful of cases every year are sent to family courts for termination of parental rights. Now that statistics are being compiled, long-term studies on the effects of abuse are also needed. Japan has yet to conduct enough studies on the enormous long-term costs, economic and psychological. Most importantly, the numbers show that thousands and thousands of the nation’s children need much more help.