OSAKA (Kyodo) A 34-year-old Kawasaki woman is collecting signatures to call for creation of a new crime category for child abuse resulting in death or injury.

After being frustrated that many parents whose abuse led to the death of their children have evaded murder charges due to investigators’ recognition that they lacked murderous intent, Hiroko Narita, a company employee, said she hopes her campaign will help raise public awareness to push for codifying child abuse as a felony.

She and her supporters, mainly mothers of young children, have collected signatures in Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures and on the Internet from more than 60,000 people, and aim to raise the figure to more than 200,000.

Narita came up with the idea of creating a new crime category specifically punishing the act of child abuse after she learned about the case of 9-year-old Seika Matsumoto of Nishiyodogawa Ward, Osaka. Matsumoto died in April 2009 after her mother and her common-law husband violently abused her and neglected to give her enough food.

While the crime of murder carries a maximum penalty of death, the two were charged with “negligence as guardians resulting in death,” a crime that can be punished by a prison term of up to 20 years. The woman was sentenced to 8 1/2 years and the man to 12 years.

“Abuse by parents, who are supposed to love and care for their children, can destroy their children physically and mentally,” Narita said.

She said she was victimized by her own mother, but she acknowledges that harsher punishment alone won’t curb child abuse. She believes the distribution of pamphlets bearing contact numbers for reporting suspected cases is important, as well as making it easier for authorities to forcibly enter houses where parents are suspected of abusing their children.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, child abuse cases handled by consultation offices hit a record 44,210 in fiscal 2009, rising for the 19th straight year since statistics were first compiled in fiscal 1990.

But in the reporting year that ended in March, there was only one case in which counselors made a compulsory visit to a household where abuse was suspected after the family had rejected the investigation.

In a recent high-profile case in Nishi Ward, Osaka, in which two toddlers were found dead after their mother abandoned them, a resident reported to counselors three times about the children’s crying, but the counselors didn’t attempt to enter the apartment.

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