National / Social Issues

Japan's government to increase child welfare workers in wake of abuse and death of 5-year-old girl

Kyodo

The government decided Friday to boost numbers of child welfare staff, to better tackle abuse following the recent death of a 5-year-old girl who had desperately begged her parents to stop mistreating her.

In emergency measures finalized at a ministerial meeting on the day, the government decided to increase the number of child welfare personnel 1.6-fold by fiscal 2022 from 3,253 nationwide as of April last year. Such staff offer consultation and support to both children and parents.

The government also mandated that welfare workers be permitted in-home access within 48 hours after receiving reports of abuse or neglect. Police can be enlisted to support them if necessary.

The government will urge municipalities to compile data on children possibly at risk, such as those who do not attend kindergarten, by the end of September.

The move comes after the March death in Tokyo of Yua Funato, which shocked the public as the extent of abuse by her mother and stepfather came to light following their arrest.

According to the police, Yudai Funato, 33, and his wife Yuri, 25, physically abused the girl from late January and failed to provide her with sufficient nourishment.

The police found a notebook and memos written by Yua at their home that were filled with pleas to her mother and stepfather to stop abusing her.

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. The Kagawa Prefectural Police had referred Funato to prosecutors twice on suspicion of injuring the child.

The couple were indicted in June over neglect that led to the girl’s death from sepsis caused by pneumonia. Yua weighed only 12 kilograms when she was found dead, compared with an average weight for her age of 20 kg.

Yua’s mother had refused to let welfare staff enter their home.