National / Crime & Legal

Kagoshima authorities failed to act on police warnings of abuse of 4-year-old girl before her death

Kyodo

Welfare authorities in Kagoshima Prefecture failed to take a 4-year-old girl, Riara Otsuka, into protective custody before her death last week due to alleged abuse by her mother’s boyfriend, despite repeated requests from police to do so, Kagoshima Prefectural Police Department has said.

The case comes after a series of fatal child abuse cases over the last two years in which authorities were found to have failed to act.

The latest revelation came after the police department on Saturday arrested Shun Hiwatashi, a 21-year-old construction worker and the live-in boyfriend of Otsuka’s mother, for allegedly hitting the girl in the head at their home in the city of Izumi last Tuesday, police said.

The police concluded that Hiwatashi was in a relationship with Otsuka’s mother, a woman in her 20s, and are now investigating his role in the girl’s death. During questioning, Hiwatashi admitted to hitting the girl.

Otsuka was confirmed dead late Wednesday at a hospital where Hiwatashi had brought the child earlier that day. The hospital staff reported to the police that Hiwatashi told them Otsuka had drowned in the bathroom.

“The child showed no signs of wariness toward her mother and we found no evidence of child abuse,” Shiro Sata, the head of a welfare center in the city of Kagoshima, told reporters Sunday. He added that the facility was not aware of Hiwatashi’s involvement with the child’s mother, but did conclude that the mother had neglected her daughter and was in need of continuous support.

“It is a tragedy that a girl has died but we have made decisions while closely cooperating with relevant organizations,” Sata said.

In mid-March, when the woman still lived with her daughter in the city of Satsumasendai, police received information that there was footage suggesting the child could be a victim of abuse. The police and child welfare officials interviewed the woman and her child to investigate the report, but neither found any bruises indicative of abuse of Otsuka nor any trace of the video.

Between late March and early April, prefectural police took the girl into protective custody four times after finding her wandering the streets alone in the middle of the night. Following the incidents, the police informed the Kagoshima child consultation center multiple times in writing and by telephone that the girl needed to be taken into protective custody, but welfare officials failed to take the child into protection.

Otsuka, her mother and Hiwatashi moved to Izumi in July. Neighbors there said they saw troubling incidents involving the child.

“My wife saw the girl standing naked outside for hours in the rain, and I also heard the child cry out loud several times,” said a man in his 60s, who lives in the neighborhood.

During a news conference on Sunday in Izumi, city officials said that Otsuka’s mother had brought the girl to a public hospital in the city in July, claiming her child had hit her head while playing and then vomited. The city noted the child had several bruises on her body on Aug. 5, but did not relay that information to police. On Aug. 26, a day before the alleged incident that led to Hiwatashi’s arrest, a public health nurse paid a visit to check on Otsuka’s condition but didn’t find any injuries on her body, officials said.

The latest case comes after a series of deaths involving suspected cases of child abuse. In June, a two-year-old girl in Sapporo died as a result of alleged abuse by her mother and a boyfriend. In January, a 10-year-old girl in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, died after alleged abuse by her father. In March last year, a five-year-old girl in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, died following abuse by her parents. In all cases, local welfare authorities or education boards were found to have failed to take appropriate measures

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