The mother of a 5-year-old girl admitted on Tuesday to parental neglect resulting in the child’s death last year in the first court hearing for a high-profile abuse case that prompted the government to revise laws to better protect children.
It is suspected that the neglect by Yuri Funato, 27, caused her daughter Yua to die of sepsis after developing pneumonia in March last year in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward, with the mother having failed to feed her adequately since around late January the same year.
She also failed to take her daughter to the hospital in late February last year, when the child became seriously weak from being physically abused by her father, Yudai Funato, 34, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said the girl was only given one or two cups of soup a day and was repeatedly assaulted, including being doused with cold water.
“I didn’t know my husband had beaten Yua,” a weeping Funato told the Tokyo District Court, adding she was “too afraid of reprisals” from her husband to report anything to the authorities.
The mother was visibly distressed in the court room. As she walked in, she burst into tears, barely able to stand. When asked to state her name by the presiding judge, she started crying and breathing heavily before she was finally able to say it in a cracked voice.
A defense lawyer said Yuri Funato was mentally under the control of her husband, who was arrested on suspicion of assault against Yua and negligence resulting in her death. His trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 1.
The defense team argued that Yuri Funato asked her husband to stop abusing the daughter, but the husband only told her why she should try to protect the child. “She bears responsibility for not being able to stop the abuse, but she was put in a difficult position when it came to acting against her husband as she was subjected to persistent psychological violence,” the lawyer said.
The girl weighed about 12 kilograms when she died, far less than the 20-kg average for children of her age. She left notes in which she made desperate pleas for her parents to “forgive” her and stop mistreating her.
Yua’s death on March 2, 2018, attracted nationwide attention and prompted the Diet to enact a revised law in June that bans parents and other guardians from physically punishing children. The law was also revised to strengthen the ability of child welfare centers to intervene in abuse cases.
The child had been living in Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku before moving to Tokyo in January 2018 with her mother and younger brother to join the father, who had moved there earlier.
She had twice been taken into protective custody by a child welfare center. Another center in Tokyo tried to check on Yua in February last year, but the mother refused to let its officials see her.
A welfare ministry panel that looked into the matter concluded in a report in October that the two centers failed to coordinate sufficiently.
Despite the law revision in June, fatal child abuses cases continue to occur in which actions by welfare centers were determined to be inadequate. Over the weekend it was reported that welfare authorities in Kagoshima Prefecture failed to take a 4-year-old girl into protective custody before her death from alleged abuse by her mother’s boyfriend, despite warnings by police to do so.