Tokyo to ban guardians from physical punishment and verbal abuse of children in wake of Chiba case

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI, Staff Report

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Wednesday it will introduce an ordinance on child abuse prevention, banning parents and other guardians from physically punishing and verbally abusing children following a high-profile fatal abuse case last year.

The draft of the new ordinance, which also requires child welfare centers to share information among themselves, will be submitted to the regular meeting of the metropolitan assembly starting Feb. 20 with the aim of implementing the measures in April, it said. Despite describing the proposal as a “ban,” the planned ordinance lacks punitive clauses.

The metropolitan government decided to compile the ordinance on child abuse prevention after 5-year-old Yua Funato died in March last year in Meguro Ward, Tokyo. The case revealed shocking details of abuse and neglect she had suffered at the hands of her parents despite desperate pleas for them to “forgive” her and stop mistreating her.

A Tokyo government panel reviewing the case concluded in November that child welfare centers in Kagawa Prefecture and Tokyo had failed to liaise sufficiently regarding the family when they moved, and were slow to check on the safety of the girl.

Nine of Japan’s 47 prefectures already have ordinances on child abuse prevention.

Tokyo’s envisioned ordinance is said to ban physical punishment and other actions by guardians that inflict physical and mental suffering on children. It requests that parents get medical checkups for children, in addition to pregnant women undergoing such checkups.

The ordinance requires child welfare centers in Tokyo to properly pass information to centers elsewhere when they refer ongoing cases, depending on the urgency of each case, while stating that the Tokyo government will create an environment in which people can report suspected abuse cases without hesitation.

Yua’s stepfather Yudai Funato and her mother Yuri were indicted over the child’s death in June last year, for allegedly failing to give their daughter enough food and assaulting her in their home in Tokyo since late January that year.

Yua died in March from sepsis caused by pneumonia as the couple did not take her to a hospital, fearing revelation of the abuse, according to the indictment. She weighed only 12 kilograms when she was found dead, compared with the average weight for her age of 20 kg.

The move by the Tokyo government also comes on the heels of another high profile abuse case involving 10-year-old Mia Kurihara, in Noda, Chiba Prefecture.

Since her death last month Mia’s parents have been arrested on suspicion of assaulting their daughter, after allegedly mistreating her and depriving her of food and sleep.

The case also highlighted a series of missteps by authorities in protecting her, with the Noda board of education having given the girl’s father a copy of a questionnaire in which she said she was being “bullied” by him.

Although she was once taken into protective custody, she was later returned home based on a statement she wrote saying that her response to the questionnaire was a lie. It was later found that the father forced the girl to write the statement.

Although Tokyo’s move to outlaw corporal punishment by parents would be a step forward, protections still lag behind those in many other countries — especially in Europe, where corporal punishment of minors is illegal both at schools and at home.

According to recent government data, 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.

Given such developments, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to crack down on the increasing number of child abuse cases in Japan.

Abe told members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Saturday that his government had ordered child welfare centers across the nation to confirm within a month the safety of all children suspected to have been abused.

He also said the government would raise the number of child welfare workers by some 1,000 for fiscal 2019, which starts in April, from the current 3,200.