YOKOHAMA – A 14-year-old boy died last month of injuries sustained in a suicide attempt just over a year earlier. He had tried to kill himself after applying unsuccessfully for shelter from his parents, whom he alleged were abusive.
The center the boy sought help from, in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, had the legal authority to take him into care without his parents’ consent but chose not to do so despite signs of physical abuse reported by school staff. It insists it acted correctly in the case.
The boy first reported abuse to the center in the fall of 2013. He told officials there on several subsequent occasions that he was afraid of going home because of physical violence by his parents, authorities said. The center took up the case and met with the parents but took no action to place him in care.
On Oct. 29, 2014, just before the boy’s suicide attempt, the center’s staff in charge of the case received a report from the boy’s school that he had been abused again. They failed to convey this to the center’s supervisor and also did not check with the boy whether it was true.
The director of the center, Akira Toritani, on Tuesday denied mishandling the case.
“We handled it appropriately at the time and judged that it was not urgent,” he told a news conference. “There was nothing wrong with our response, but we are taking the suicide very seriously,” Toritani said.
The boy was hospitalized after the suicide attempt in November 2014, but was moved to a nursing home in June last year after doctors said his condition was beyond treatment, according to city authorities.
On Tuesday, the boy’s mother wept as she told reporters outside her home that she and her husband had smacked their son to discipline him when he failed to keep a promise.
“We had been debating how to improve our relations with our son,” she said. “It’s a mother’s responsibility for not noticing that he may commit suicide.”
She said she had received counseling from the center and had started writing and exchanging with her son diary-like journals — records of thoughts often shared between children at school — in a bid to improve ties.
The center first detected the abuse in fall 2013, in the boy’s final year of elementary school, when school staff reported seeing bruises on his face.
At the time, the school and local authorities interviewed the boy and his parents.
In May the following year, after he entered junior high school, the boy was briefly taken into police custody after he sought refuge from his parents in the middle of the night at a nearby convenience store.
On several occasions from June 2014, the center provided guidance to the parents and arranged interviews for the boy with a child psychologist.
The center did not designate the boy’s case as serious and judged that his relations with his parents were improving.
But at an interview in early October that year, the boy told staff he wanted to be taken into a children’s home. The parents said they would no longer deal with the center.
Later that month, the school told the center that the boy had bruising on his abdomen that supposedly he got when he struck a bed during a beating by his father. Still, the center refused to take him into care.
An amendment to the suicide countermeasure law enacted Tuesday and which takes effect April 1 will require local authorities to develop suicide prevention plans.
The amendment passed the House of Representatives with a unanimous vote. It states it is aimed at “realizing a society where no one is driven to suicide.”