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The welfare ministry has begun a survey of child abuse cases to see if the victims also suffered from sexual violence, with an eye toward tackling the most difficult cases, particularly if they occur within a family, according to ministry officials.

The survey was prompted by the high-profile death of 10-year-old Mia Kurihara in January last year due to physical abuse at her home in Chiba Prefecture. When temporarily in protective custody, she revealed that she had also suffered sexual abuse, the officials said.

In the survey, the ministry is asking all 220 child consultation centers across Japan to report cases in which they initially did not know but later discovered that the abused children had also been exposed to sexual abuse.

The centers are authorized to offer temporary protection to abused children, give guidance to parents and enter homes when necessary for inspection, and have been dealing with an increasing number of child abuse cases in recent years.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to compile a report by March next year, the officials said.

Of the 159,838 cases of child abuse reported or referred to the consultation centers in fiscal 2018, 55.3 percent involved psychological abuse, 25.2 percent physical abuse, 18.4 percent neglect, and 1.1 percent sexual abuse.

Mia Kurihara, a victim of child abuse who died last year, lived in this apartment building in Noda, Chiba Prefecture. | KYODO
Mia Kurihara, a victim of child abuse who died last year, lived in this apartment building in Noda, Chiba Prefecture. | KYODO

But experts see the figure for sexual violence as just the “tip of the iceberg” because victims often keep their situations secret, particularly when their abusers are family members, for fear that divulging their plight could lead to breaking up the family.

Before her death, for which Mia’s father is appealing a 16-year prison sentence, the fourth grader was taken to one of the centers after a school questionnaire revealed her father’s violence.

Even though she spoke of her sexual abuse, the temporary shelter let her go back home without taking any special measures, according to the prefectural government.

“At present, there is a risk that sexually abused children cannot receive care if their cases are not recognized as also involving sexual violence,” a ministry official said.

There are also other cases of repeated sexual offenses against children at home that have come to light in Japan, including one in which a father was found guilty by the Nagoya High Court of sexually abusing his daughter.

A social environment should be created to make it easier for children to complain of sexual abuse and get protection without suffering any detrimental treatment, said Hiroyuki Suzuki, an associate professor at Rissho University who is an expert on child welfare.

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