National / Social Issues

Number of child abuse cases in Japan rose 9% in 2017 fiscal year: health ministry data

Kyodo

More than 130,000 child abuse cases were handled by consultation centers across the country in fiscal 2017, on the back of increasing reports of children suffering from psychological damage after witnessing instances of domestic violence, preliminary health ministry data showed Thursday.

The figure rose 9.1 percent from a year earlier to 133,778, marking a 27th straight year of increase since comparable data became available in 1990.

The ministry attributed the rising number of reports to increased awareness among the public that psychological mistreatment, such as witnessing acts of domestic violence, can also be counted as child abuse.

Although the reports included many less serious cases of child abuse, major incidents continued to occur and some lead to the deaths of children.

In March this year, Yua Funato, 5, died in Tokyo after being abused and neglected by her parents despite her desperate pleas for them to stop mistreating her. Her case shocked the public, particularly because of the messages left behind in her notebook, including one that said, “Please forgive me forgive me” and another that read, “I promise I will never ever do it again.”

Following her death the government compiled emergency measures to tackle child abuse, including a plan to boost the number of child welfare staff nationwide by about 2,000 by fiscal 2022 from 3,253 as of April last year. Welfare workers are increasingly expected to swiftly identify urgent cases among a huge number of reports.

“We want to create a system involving not just child consultation centers but also municipal governments to prevent abuse,” said an official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

In fiscal 2017 that ended in March, the number of psychological abuse cases stood at 72,197. The total includes children who were ignored, verbally abused or who witnessed acts of domestic violence.

A total of 33,223 cases of physical abuse, 26,818 cases of neglect and 1,540 sexual abuse cases were reported.

The ministry has not yet released the number of child abuse-related deaths for fiscal 2017.

In fiscal 2016, 77 children died due to abuse, including 33 who were under 1 year old. For a total of 28 kids, the parents also killed themselves. The number of child abuse deaths that year dropped by seven from the previous year. In 67.5 percent of the 77 cases, mothers were responsible for their children’s deaths.

The ministry official noted one specific case, in which the mother killed her daughter and then killed herself. The mother was known to have had a mental disorder.

The official expressed an urgency to hire staffers who specialize in mental illness so that child consultation officials can seek their advice.

More than half of the mothers of children who died in cases other than those involving a murder-suicide gave birth to their children after an unexpected pregnancy, the ministry said, calling for support for both pregnant women and mothers.

The whereabouts of 28 children under 18 years old remained unknown as of June and at least four of them are feared to be subjected to abuse. Nine of them may have gone abroad, according to the ministry.

“We will continue to ask municipal governments to locate their whereabouts and call for their support if the children are in danger,” a ministry official said.