National

Chiba education board admits it showed girl's report of abuse to father now suspected of fatal assault

Kyodo

Local officials admitted Thursday they handed a copy of a school questionnaire, in which a third-grader wrote that she had been physically abused by her father and asked teachers to help, to the father in response to his emphatic request, about a year before his arrest over her death.

The officials at the education board in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, apologized for conducting an act that showed an “extreme lack of consideration,” saying that they yielded to Yuichiro Kurihara’s request due to his “intimidating demeanor” that made them “frightened.”

His daughter, 10-year-old Mia, died last week at home in the city northeast of Tokyo. Police arrested the 41-year-old father on suspicion of assaulting her.

In a news conference Thursday, Noda Mayor Yu Suzuki and officials from the education board disclosed the contents of the questionnaire on bullying completed by Mia in November 2017 when she was a third-grader.

She wrote in the questionnaire, which that school had promised would be kept “secret,” that she was “bullied by family” and that her father used “violence,” forcing her to “wake up in the middle of the night” and that he “kicks and beats me when I am awake.”

“Can’t you do anything about this?” the girl also wrote in a plea to her teachers at a public elementary school in Noda.

“We apologize for not being able to save the life of a small child,” Suzuki said.

The descriptions in the questionnaire led to the decision by a child consultation center to place Mia in a temporary care facility between Nov. 7 and Dec. 27 that year, believing it to be highly likely that she had been abused by her father.

However, the measure apparently angered Kurihara, who demanded the school give him a copy of the questionnaire during a visit there on Jan. 12 — about two weeks after Mia was given permission to leave the facility on condition she live at a relative’s house.

“Can’t you understand how it feels to have a family member separated?” the father said at the time, adding that he would take the matter to court, according to the city.

After the school rejected the request, citing lack of consent from the pupil, her parents went to the local education board three days later with what the father claimed was a letter of consent from their daughter to show the questionnaire to them.

The board gave a copy to them after Mia’s 31-year-old mother, also said to have been physically abused by Kurihara, confirmed that the letter was written by her daughter.

Mia was transferred to a separate public school in Noda three days later. At that school, she was given a similar questionnaire twice, in June and November last year, but each time she wrote she was “not bullied” by anyone.

Experts on child welfare denounced the city for handing the questionnaire to her abusive parent.

Their action “might have resulted in a more vicious attack on the child,” by the father, said Tetsuro Tsuzaki, a former head of a child consultation center. “(The school and the education board) should have contacted a child consultation center when they received such a request from her father.”

Naoki Ogi, an education commentator and special professor at Hosei University, echoed the view, saying that it was an “extremely dangerous act.”

“I think Mia was in despair after her questionnaire was handed (to her father), which must have made it impossible for her to trust adults,” Ogi said.

Mia’s death has added to cases that have raised concerns over Japan’s child protection systems.

It comes at a time when the government has pledged to improve measures to prevent child abuse following the death of 5-year-old Yua Funato in Tokyo in March last year, who had written “forgive me” in a notebook begging her parents to stop mistreating her.

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 2017.