A total of 1,991 minors under 18 were victims of child abuse last year, marking a 42.8 percent jump from the previous year and hitting a record high, the National Police Agency said in a report Thursday.
Of the victims, 54 died, including 10-year-old Mia Kurihara in a high-profile case out of Noda, Chiba Prefecture.
A record-high 98,222 minors were referred to child welfare centers nationwide on suspicion of being abused, up 22.4 percent, and a record-high 5,553 minors were taken into protective custody by police, up 21.5 percent, according to the report.
The police take action when children’s lives are in imminent danger or in cases where child welfare centers cannot immediately take them in, such as overnight.
The police launched investigations into 1,972 suspected cases of child abuse, up 42.9 percent, which targeted 2,024 suspects, up 42.6 percent, according to the report.
Of the suspects, 71.5 percent were men — 913 of them biological fathers and 302 stepfathers or adoptive fathers. Among female suspects, 550 were biological mothers and 10 were stepmothers or adoptive mothers.
Among the 1,991 child abuse victims, 1,654 were subjected to physical abuse, followed by 248 who were sexually abused, 53 who were verbally and psychologically abused and 36 who were neglected.
Of the 54 child abuse deaths, 21 children were forced to join family suicides and 11 were assaulted to death.
On the same day the NPA also released data showing that the number of people under 18 who fell victim to social media-linked sexual and other crimes in Japan in 2019 rose 271 from the previous year to a record 2,082.
The number of child pornography victims increased 283 to 1,559, also a record high, the data showed.
The NPA is calling on operators of social networks to take action while strengthening efforts to raise public awareness of crimes against children.
The social media-linked crime victims included 1,044 high school students, up 53, while the number of victims among junior high school students climbed a steeper 223 to 847, reflecting the growing use of smartphones among that demographic. The number of victims among elementary school children rose 17 to 72.
By crime type, there were 844 victims under 18 of indecent sexual acts that violated juvenile protection ordinances. There were 49 victims of forced sexual intercourse and 46 kidnapping victims.
Many victims encountered social media-linked crimes through smartphones and only 13.5 percent of them were using smartphones on which functions to block harmful websites were enabled.
By website or smartphone app, 807 were Twitter users, 307 were users of Himabu, a student-only social networking website that was closed late last year, 120 were Instagram users and 81 were Line users.
Meanwhile, the child pornography victims included a record 584 victims in pornographic selfie cases. About 90 percent of the selfie victims were junior and senior high school students, while elementary school kids numbered 41.