National / Social Issues

Reported child abuse in Japan rises to a record in fiscal 2016, adding stress to overstretched welfare workers

Kyodo

Reported child abuse incidents are on the rise as consultation centers nationwide handled a record 122,578 cases in fiscal 2016, a health ministry survey showed Thursday, increasing the strain on welfare workers.

Juvenile consultation centers have seen around a fivefold increase in abuse cases over the past 15 years, while the number of welfare workers responding to victims and their parents has only doubled in the same period.

The increase in cases may be attributed partly to greater awareness of the issue prompting more people to report incidents or and consult about abuse. The data also suggest the upward trend remains unchanged as more children are suffering from psychological trauma, such as witnessing acts of domestic violence within their families.

“We want to improve the capacity of child consultation centers while collaborating with municipal governments that are supporting child care and maternity health,” said an official of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

In fiscal 2016, the preliminary number of child abuse cases handled by 210 child consultation centers rose 18.7 percent from a year earlier, marking a 26th consecutive yearly rise, according to the survey, which began in fiscal 1990.

Child welfare officers have been struggling to manage, with 94 percent of those polled in a 2010 survey conducted by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry saying their caseload was either “very heavy” or “heavy.”

In April last year, the health ministry unveiled a plan to recruit more juvenile welfare officers, adding 550 over four years from 3,000. But even this would not be enough to reach the level needed in the field.

In fiscal 2016, cases of psychological abuse — including situations in which children suffered verbal abuse — climbed by 14,487 to 63,187 and accounted for 51.5 percent of the total.

Physical abuse stood at 31,927 cases, comprising 26.0 percent, neglect at 25,842, or 21.1 percent, and sexual abuse at 1,622, or 1.3 percent.

The Diet revised the child welfare law and child abuse prevention law in May last year, bolstering the roles of juvenile consultation facilities. But some have voiced concerns that more administrative tasks would mean even heavier workloads for welfare workers.

The revised child welfare law requires juvenile consultation centers to be staffed by psychological, medical and legal experts, while the child abuse prevention law simplified procedures for the welfare authorities to raid homes if they suspect child abuse.

But the government’s efforts to strengthen the functions of consultation centers, such as by deploying lawyers or involving family courts in guiding abusive families, could strain workers at those facilities, said Reiho Kashiwame, a professor of child home welfare studies at Shukutoku University.

“In regard to assisting families and homes, the government should strengthen the roles played by municipal governments tasked with child care” rather than leave all responsibility to the consultation centers, said Kashiwame.

For deaths of children in fiscal 2015, the health ministry’s experts committee for the first time requested municipal governments to report suspected child abuse cases that were initially deemed unrelated to abuse.

After reviewing 12 suspected cases, the commission reached its own decision that eight deaths were a result of child abuse.

The number of children who died in fiscal 2015 because of abuse, excluding those killed in murder-suicides, rose by eight to 52 from the previous year, of which 30 victims were less than 1 year old.

The commission believes unexpected pregnancy and other issues surrounding mothers are behind such deaths, and recommended providing seamless support for pregnant women and mothers.

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