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The number of consultations on child abuse rose to a record 18,804 in fiscal 2000, 60 percent higher than the previous year, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Thursday.

The numbers, which cover tips from third parties such as schools and neighbors as well as inquiries from people who fear they may be abusing children, indicate a 17-fold rise over the past 10 years.

The number of such consultations at child-welfare facilities nationwide was 1,101 in fiscal 1990, when the ministry began compiling statistics, and topped 10,000 for the first time in fiscal 1999, when 11,631 consultations were held, according to the ministry.

Of the consultations for 2000, child-welfare officials made inspection visits in 105 cases, compared with 42 such inspections in fiscal 1999 and 13 in fiscal 1998.

Under a new law that took effect in November, police accompanied welfare officials on 70 of the 105 inspection visits, the ministry said.

The new law grants the government the right to challenge parents’ custody rights and ban abusive parents from meeting or corresponding with their children. It also obliges teachers, doctors and welfare officials to be on the lookout for early signs of child abuse and report it to the authorities.

In the statistics through fiscal 1999, the ministry counted only the number of consultations where action was taken by child-welfare officials, but starting in fiscal 2000, it began calculating all consultations in a bid to paint a more accurate picture of the extent of child abuse.

The ministry reported the latest statistics to a meeting Thursday of the heads of child-welfare facilities across the nation and asked them to strengthen measures to combat child abuse.

According to the fiscal 2000 survey, 9,337 consultations, or 49.7 percent of the total, concerned physical abuse; 6,869, or 36.5 percent, were related to negligence such as the failure to feed children; 1,901, or 10.1 percent, were psychological abuse cases; and 697, or 3.7 percent, concerned sexual abuse.

Mothers accounted for 61.6 percent of the abusers in the cases in which consultations were made, and fathers for 23.7 percent. About half of the abused children, 49.3 percent, were aged 6 and under, while 35.1 percent were elementary school children.

The number of officials at child-welfare centers throughout Japan has been rising steadily, with 1,480 in the current fiscal year, which began in April, compared with 1,313 in fiscal 2000 and 1,230 in fiscal 1999.

By prefecture, Aomori has the highest ratio of child-welfare officials, with one to every 26,900 people, while Nara has the lowest, with one official to every 132,900 people. It is up to prefectural governments to make decisions involving the distribution of child-welfare officials.

Since the new law came into effect last November, the ministry has learned of about 22 deaths from child abuse.

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