Child abuse in this nation has reached a crisis level. Child welfare centers across the nation dealt with a record 34,451 cases of child abuse in fiscal 2005, a thousand more than in the previous year and a 31.3-fold increase since fiscal 1990.

The police uncovered a record 120 cases of child abuse in the first half of this year, an increase of 14.3 percent over the same period last year. The police investigated 131 people on suspicion of child abuse, up 12.9 percent from last year. Victims numbered 128, up 18.5 percent from the previous year. Both figures are the highest since 2000. Twenty-eight of the victims died, six more than the year before. The situation underscores the need for the central and local governments and communities to step up cooperation aimed at preventing child abuse.

In 2004, improvements were made in the nationwide effort to fight child abuse. That year the child abuse prevention law was revised to require that people notify authorities if they came across children thought to have been abused even if there was no concrete evidence. Previously the law stated only that people must notify authorities if they had discovered firm evidence of abuse against a child. The National Police Agency says this revision may have heightened people’s consciousness about child abuse, allowing the police to make more arrests. A 2005 revision of the children’s welfare law had municipal governments open sections to accept “tipoffs” on potential cases of child abuse. These sections supplement existing child welfare centers.

It is hoped that the two revisions will increase the number of incidents of child abuse being reported to the police and other organizations, lead to earlier detection of child abuse and improve response to such cases. Of the 120 cases of child abuse uncovered by the police in the first half of this year, 86 were classified as physical, an increase of 7.5 percent, and 23 were sexual, an increase of 4.5 percent. Symbolically, cases of neglect increased 3.7 times to 11. Neglect means failure to take good care of children, including providing meals, clean clothes, baths, visits to doctors, and necessary medicine.

In fiscal 2004, child welfare centers across the nation dealt with about 12,000 cases of neglect. In a recent survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 46 percent of 230 hospitals with pediatrics departments said they had hospitalized a total of more than 400 children who were victims of neglect. Twelve of them died and 21 suffered serious aftereffects. Of 106 such children hospitalized in 2005 alone, 55 recovered but eight suffered serious aftereffects. Tipoffs had been given to child welfare centers and other organizations in 97 of the 106 cases.

Most regrettable are when child welfare centers fail to save abused children even though they have the necessary information and have dealt with the cases before. A case in Izumizaki, Fukushima Prefecture, is a typical example. Police arrested a 40-year-old father and a 33-year-old mother in July on suspicion of fatal abuse. Their third son, 3, had died in May from pneumonia triggered by severe malnourishment. He weighed only 7.8 kg, equivalent to the average weight of a 6-month old. It was also found that the parents neglected to provide meals to their second daughter, 8, and their second son, 6. The latter weighed only about 10 kg, about half the average weight of a child that age.

In 1999, the father had been arrested on suspicion of injuring his eldest son, then 2 years old, and eventually lost parental rights. His oldest daughter had died at the age of 3 months in 1996. When the couple moved from Tokyo to Fukushima Prefecture in 1999, a child welfare center in Tokyo notified a child welfare center in the prefecture about the abuse of the eldest son. The Fukushima center had that information; additionally, there were indications that the other children in the family were being abused. The center’s failure to act properly should be scrutinized to prevent recurrences.

In addition, it is urgent that more people be trained as child welfare commissioners and that they be given the knowledge and skills to cope with parents who try to hide their abuse of children. At present, there are only about 2,100 child welfare commissioners in the nation.

A system also should be created to protect child welfare commissioners who have confronted parents and then discovered that no child abuse has taken place. Municipal governments also can improve the fight against child abuse by setting up or strengthening a liaison body consisting of child welfare experts, educators, medical experts, police officers, family court officials and administrators. Their jobs should be wide enough in scope so that they can deal with abuse cases as well as educate parents and help victims fully recover.

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