Police reported the suspected abuse of a record-high 80,104 minors aged below 18 to child welfare authorities in 2018 amid growing public awareness of the problem, government data showed Thursday.
The figure rose by 22.4 percent from a year earlier, surpassing 80,000 for the first time since comparable data became available in 2004, according to preliminary figures released by the National Police Agency. The number is up thirteenfold from 2008.
Police report suspected abuse cases to child consultation centers, which provide temporary shelter to children or dispatch staff to homes with potentially abused children.
“As child abuse incidents tend to go unnoticed, we’ll continue to share information with child consultation centers and other related organizations,” an NPA official said.
Concerns over how child abuse cases are handled have been renewed by the case of Mia Kurihara, a 10-year-old girl who died in January at her home in Chiba Prefecture due to alleged abuse by her father. In that case, the investigation uncovered how a child welfare center, her school and other local authorities failed to respond promptly to the girl’s call for help.
The tragedy has led the government to consider steps to prevent such incidents. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Diet session on Thursday that he will hold a meeting of ministers on Friday to strengthen cooperation between related organizations and consider new rules related to the sharing of information on potential victims.
“We failed to respond to the SOS calls that the girl had courageously sent (to authorities). We, as the government, take it seriously,” Abe said.
In 2018, 57,326 children were suspected of falling victim to psychological abuse, accounting for 70 percent of the total cases. Physical abuse was suspected in the cases of 14,821 children, while 7,699 children were reported to have been neglected. Sexual abuse was reported in the cases of 258 children. All categories saw an increase over 2017.
An investigative source said the rise in the figures can be partly attributed to heightened awareness among citizens leading to an increase in people reporting cases of abuse.
The investigation into the case in Chiba has revealed that Mia told her school she was being abused by her father, but a child welfare center, which temporarily put her under its protection, let her return home without taking sufficient steps.
The father, Yuichiro Kurihara, was arrested on Jan. 25 for allegedly assaulting Mia the previous day, including dousing her with cold water from a shower. The girl’s mother was arrested on Monday for her alleged failure to stop the assault.
In March last year, the death of a 5-year-old girl in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward shocked the public after the extent of the alleged physical abuse and food deprivation by her mother and stepfather came to light. She was later found to have written “please forgive me” in a notebook due to her mistreatment.
Yua Funato weighed only 12 kg when she died, compared with the average weight of 20 kg for girls her age.
Insufficient information sharing among public entities was also seen as one of the factors in that case. Before moving to Tokyo, the girl was taken into protective care twice by a child consultation center in Kagawa Prefecture, but a Tokyo consultation center failed to recognize the urgency of the situation as it did not receive the necessary information from the Kagawa center.
In the NPA report, the number of suspected domestic violence cases rose to 77,482 in 2018 from 72,455 in 2017, while the number of reported stalking cases stood at 21,551, above the recent average of around 20,000.
The total number of confirmed criminal cases came to 817,445, falling to its lowest level since the end of World War II mainly due to a decrease in theft.