Miscommunication between child welfare centers in Kagawa Prefecture and Tokyo may have played a role in the abuse of a 5-year-old girl, who died in March, an official of a child abuse prevention organization said.
The mother and stepfather of Yua Funato were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of leaving the girl unattended and without sufficient food or medical care, resulting in her death on March 2.
The family had moved from the Shikoku prefecture to the capital two months before Yua died.
Police allege Yudai Funato, 33, and his wife Yuri, 25, physically abused the girl from late January and failed to provide her with sufficient nourishment, resulting in her death from sepsis caused by pneumonia.
The family had lived in Kagawa Prefecture, where Yua was taken into temporary protective custody twice by a local child welfare center, before moving to Tokyo in late January. The Kagawa Prefectural Police had twice referred Yudai Funato to prosecutors on suspicion of injuring the child.
He had been arrested earlier and indicted for allegedly injuring Yua by punching her in the face at their Tokyo home around the end of February.
A child welfare center in Tokyo had been informed by its counterpart in Kagawa about Yua’s case, but its officials never met with the girl.
An official of a child welfare center in the capital’s Shinagawa Ward visited the family’s home in Meguro Ward on Feb. 9, but was denied the opportunity to see the child by her mother, who told the official to, “Leave us alone.”
The Shinagawa center also could not contact Yua at a briefing session for new students at a local elementary school as only the girl’s mother attended the event.
A Tokyo Metropolitan Government official said, “We were aware of the need to keep watching the family but did not think the girl was in imminent danger,” judging from what the Shinagawa center heard from the Kagawa child welfare facility.
Tetsuro Tsuzaki, who heads the Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse & Neglect, said Yua’s death was the result of a “miscommunication” between the two local welfare authorities.
The Kagawa center failed to share a sense of urgency with the Shinagawa faciliy, he said.
“In a stepfamily, child abuse often becomes grave because the mother sides with the stepfather to please him,” Tsuzaki said.
An official of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry acknowledged the risk that child abuse cases can be overlooked as a result of the family moving.
It would be best if both child welfare centers had the same level of risk awareness in cases where a child moves to a new municipality, the official said.
After the Tokyo Metropolitan Government examines whether communication between the local authorities was appropriate with regards to Yua’s case, the ministry will consider taking necessary measures such as revising guidelines on how to manage child welfare centers, the official said.
Yua weighed only 12 kilograms when she died. Girls her age weigh 20 kilograms on average.
The police believe the couple effectively abandoned Yua because they were afraid the abuse would be discovered. In the end, Yudai Funato made a call to emergency services, saying, “Our daughter has not eaten for a few days and vomited, and her heart doesn’t seem to be beating.”
The police found a notebook and messages written by Yua at their home that were filled with pleas to her mother and stepfather to stop abusing her.
” ‘Please forgive me forgive me,’ ‘I promise I will never ever do it again,’ ” a senior officer from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said at a news conference, his voice trembling as he read the messages written by the preschool girl in hiragana characters in the notebook.
According to the officer, Yua was forced by her parents to wake up at around 4 a.m. every day to measure her weight and practice writing hiragana. Her parents restricted her diet so their daughter could be as slim as a fashion model.
In the notebook, she wrote her weight almost every day as well as messages begging her parents for forgiveness.
“I promise I will try to be better tomorrow than today, without being told by Daddy and Mommy,” another message read.
“I guess there were only words of apology in her mind” as she was desperately trying to do as she was told so they would stop abusing her, the officer said.
The couple had been sleeping in the same room as Yua’s half-brother while Yua slept in a separate room, police said.