The police have referred a record-high 37,113 suspected victims of child abuse to child welfare authorities in the first half of this year, a report released Thursday showed.
The preliminary figure marks an increase of 6,851 children age 17 or younger compared to the same period last year, according to the National Police Agency.
The agency believes the figures do not necessarily indicate there is a general increase in abuse, but rather that people are reporting more suspected cases to authorities amid heightened public awareness.
Police say the increased reporting has allowed early intervention in potentially dangerous situations.
“I understand that abuse leaves a serious impact on a child’s mind and body,” Junzo Yamamoto, the new head of the National Public Safety Commission, told a news conference, adding he intends to instruct police to promote measures to help abused children across the country.
The issue re-entered the spotlight in March after the death of 5-year-old Yua Funato in Tokyo. Police suspect she was beaten and neglected by her parents.
The case sent shock waves throughout society when it was reported that Funato had recorded messages pleading for forgiveness in a notebook, all while her parents allegedly underfed her in order to keep the young girl “slim like a model.”
The girl was also allegedly woken up at 4 a.m. every day to practice writing and to carry out other tasks.
Following her death, the government compiled emergency measures to tackle child abuse, including a plan to employ an additional 2,000 child welfare staff nationwide by fiscal 2022, up from the 3,253 employed as of April last year.
The latest report showed police also removed 2,127 children from their homes in the six months through June, deeming that their lives had been threatened, while forwarding 14,869 abuse reports to government child consultation centers that they could not immediately confirm, according to the report.
Of the 37,113 minors affected, roughly 70 percent, or 26,415, were suspected of having been subject to psychological abuse, including 16,869 who had witnessed domestic violence.
A total of 6,792 victims were suspected to have suffered physical abuse, 3,795 were believed to have been neglected, and 111 were thought to have been raped or forced into some other form of violent sexual activity, the report showed.
The number of child pornography cases handled by police rose to a record 1,423 in the first half of the year, up 281.
The number of cases involving possession of illegal materials increased, while cases where people were suspected of making explicit content involving children decreased.