The former president of a nationwide chain of day-care centers was sentenced Wednesday to a suspended one-year prison term for professional negligence resulting in the death of a 4-month-old boy.
Another former executive was sentenced to a suspended 10-month term. Both sentences were suspended for three years.
The Tokyo District Court handed down the sentences to Masamitsu Maekawa, 55, former president of nursery chain Chibikko-En, and Kozue Maedomari, 38, a director at the Toyama-based company.
Chibikko-En changed its name to Maxcom in September 2001.
Maekawa and Maedomari pleaded guilty to the charges. Prosecutors had sought a one-year prison term for Maekawa and an eight-month term for Maedomari.
The victim, Ryosuke Hojo, of Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, suffocated after another boy rolled on top of him while they were sleeping in the same crib at the chain’s Ikebukuro Nishi facility in Toshima Ward, Tokyo.
The incident took place March 15, 2001, and the baby died of suffocation the following morning.
According to the indictment, Maekawa and Maedomari accepted an “unlimited number” of babies, without considering whether it had adequate facilities or staff.
The Ikebukuro Nishi facility had 10 cribs, each occupied by two babies.
The chain was operating about 60 day-care centers nationwide and allegedly focused on profits instead of safety.
After the ruling, Ryosuke’s 27-year-old mother, Yoko, told a news conference that she had felt that she would be dissatisfied regardless of the sentence, as her child would never return.
“However, I am glad to hear that the court felt the same way I did regarding the malicious intent (of the defendants) to hide the accident and the day-care center’s prioritizing of profit,” she said.
Meanwhile, her lawyer, Akiharu Takamizawa, welcomed the ruling as a landmark event, saying it was the first time for a Japanese court to recognize the criminal responsibility of a child-care operator in a death of this kind.
The highly publicized case prompted the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to revise the Child Welfare Law two months after the boy’s death in a bid to strengthen its supervision of child-care facilities.
But many centers, including Maxcom, are unauthorized, lacking adequate staff or facilities as required by the government.
Such facilities still operate because the number of authorized child-care facilities has failed to meet demand.
Unauthorized child-care facilities, of which there are about 9,600 across the country, do not receive financial aid from the government.
The ministry said seven children died from illness and other causes at unauthorized facilities in fiscal 2001, and 10 reportedly died in fiscal 2002.
According to the ministry, 12 were less than 1 year old and five had turned 1.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.