The police launched full-scale investigations into a record 1,380 child abuse cases nationwide in 2018, up 21.3 percent from the previous year, an official report showed Thursday, an apparent reflection of increased efforts by police to tackle such cases.
Of the total, 1,095 cases involved physical abuse, followed by 226 cases of sexual abuse, according to the report by the National Police Agency.
The number of children who were victims of abuse also hit a record high, up 19.3 percent from 2017 to 1,394, and that of children who were taken into protective custody climbed 19.1 percent to a record 4,571, it said.
“It is a worrying situation,” NPA Commissioner-General Shunichi Kuryu said. “We would like to coordinate with child consultation centers, schools and others while advancing our efforts by putting children’s safety first.”
Tetsuro Tsuzaki, head of the Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, said the rise in the number of investigations reflects the police’s proactive attitude as well as the increasing severity of the abuse.
“There has been a slew of serious cases in which child victims died, and we think the situation is worsening,” he said.
The report was released amid growing concern over parental violence against children following the death in January of 10-year-old Mia Kurihara at her home in Chiba Prefecture. Authorities suspect she died after suffering physical abuse from her parents.
The ongoing probe has uncovered failures by local welfare authorities and her school to respond in a timely fashion to the girl’s appeals for help.
Among other cases to have attracted national attention was that of 5-year-old Yua Funato, who died in March last year at her Tokyo home after having made desperate pleas for her parents to “forgive” and stop mistreating her. The parents have been indicted for neglect resulting in the girl’s death.
Of the 1,419 people police investigated as possible assailants in the cases, 622 are the victims’ biological father, followed by 352 who are the biological mother and 266 who are foster or step-fathers, according to the report.
After the recent high-profile deaths of children due to alleged mistreatment by their parents, the central government has decided to step up efforts to prevent child abuse and is seeking to revise related laws to that end during the ongoing Diet session.
The measures are expected to include strengthening the police’s ability to identify cases of child abuse at an early stage, such as by holding joint training with child consultation centers and enhancing support by placing current and retired police officers at the centers.
Tsuzaki said the government’s plan would be “effective to a certain degree” but also urged child consultation centers, schools and private-sector bodies to consider ways for the community to prevent child abuse, as a heavy police presence could make parents cautious.
The report also said police opened investigations into a record 3,097 child pornography cases in 2018, up 28.3 percent from a year earlier.
The number surpassed 3,000 for the first time and involved 2,315 alleged perpetrators, also an all-time high, up 35.9 percent from the previous year and the fifth consecutive yearly increase, the report said.
Many of the victims were coerced or tricked into sending nude photos of themselves, the agency said. Cases in which a person possessed images of naked children surged fivefold to 951, while the production of child pornography by taking photos accounted for nearly half of the total at 1,417 cases, marginally higher than the year before.
The distribution of such photos stood at 729 cases, down 8.6 percent.
Nearly 80 percent of victims were junior high school or high school students. Among them, 1,152 girls and 124 boys were identified.
Of the total, 541 children were coerced into sending nude photos of themselves, while 295 were photographed or filmed by hidden cameras.
About 90 percent of cases where the victim sent nude selfies of themselves involved junior high school or high school students. The taking of photos and videos with concealed cameras accounted for more than half of the cases involving children in elementary school or younger.
The NPA has been stepping up its efforts to crack down on crimes by pedophiles. It confiscated from a group that ran a child porn website a list of about 7,000 individuals who purchased child porn DVDs in 2017. Since then, police officers across the country have been expanding investigations based on the list.
In 2018, 1,811 children under 18 were found to have fallen prey to sexual and other crimes through social networking platforms, according to the agency. The figure was almost unchanged from the previous year in which a record 1,813 were victimized.
By age, 991 were high school students, followed by 624 junior high school students.
The social networking platform in which most victims were targeted was Twitter at 718, while 214 used Himabu, a popular messaging app for students.