Child-abuse cases in Japan topped 200,000 in fiscal 2020 for the first time since data began in fiscal 1990, the welfare ministry said in a preliminary report Friday.
In the year through March, the number of abuse-related consultations handled by child consultation centers across the country grew by 11,249, or 5.8%, from fiscal 2019 to 205,029, continuing to rise since the start of the survey.
Some experts say child-abuse cases grew in part due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. But no direct links were found from the survey, according to the ministry. "We're not sure if there is a clear causal relation. We'll continue to watch the situation closely," a ministry official said.
Among the country's 47 prefectures, Tokyo saw the largest number of child-abuse cases, at 25,736, followed by Osaka, at 24,633 cases, and Kanagawa, at 22,093 cases. Osaka topped the list in fiscal 2019.
Cases involving psychological abuse totaled 121,325 in fiscal 2020, up by 12,207 and making up about 60% of the total. This reflected more reports from police to child consultation centers on children witnessing domestic violence.
Physical abuse cases stood at 50,033, up by 793.
Of the total, the number of child abuse cases reported by police to child consultation centers accounted for the largest share, followed by reports from neighbors and acquaintances, and those by family members and relatives.
The number of reports from schools, kindergartens and nurseries dropped, apparently because of temporary shutdowns of schools and preschool facilities in the wake of the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a survey report released by an expert panel of the welfare ministry Friday said that 78 children died of abuse in Japan in fiscal 2019, down by five from the preceding year.
Excluding cases in which children were killed due to murder-suicide by parents, child abuse deaths came to 57 in the year to March 2020. Of the children, 28 were aged under 1, including 11 under one month old.
Birth mothers were responsible for 30 of the 57 deaths.
Of the 57 children, 17 died from physical abuse and 13 from neglect. In 20 cases, the mothers did not receive prenatal checkups.
Child abuse deaths, excluding murder-suicide cases, have totaled 890 since the panel began the survey in July 2003, with physical abuse cases accounting for 60% and neglect cases 30%.
The panel conducted a survey following an increase in deaths from neglect in recent years, finding out that many women became pregnant and gave birth in their teens or did not undergo prenatal checkups.
Regarding cases in which children died on the day of birth, the panel pointed out that many of the mothers were suffering social isolation, such as having no one to talk to about their pregnancy.
It called on administrative authorities, mainly local governments, to establish a support system to reach out to such women at an early stage and consult them to sort out their problems.
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