The Child Abuse Prevention Law went into force in November 2000. Under a 2004 revision, people are obliged to report to the authorities concerned whenever they come across children with bruises or a feeble build that suggests physical abuse. A 2007 revision enables a court to issue a permit for children’s welfare center officials to forcibly enter the residences of children suspected of being victims of abuse.

But the situation has been deteriorating steadily. In fiscal 1990, when the government started taking statistics, children’s welfare centers handled only about 1,100 consultations on child abuse. But that number topped 10,000 in fiscal 1999, 20,000 in fiscal 2001, 30,000 in fiscal 2004, and 40,000 in fiscal 2007. It reached a record 42,664 in fiscal 2008. In 2009, the police took actions in 335 cases of child abuse, involving 347 children — records for both figures. Twenty-eight children died.

In 2010, for example, a first-grade boy in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward was repeatedly subjected to violence from his father and died in January. In Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, a 5-year-old boy was found unconscious and died in March; he weighed only 6.2 kg. In Nagoya, a 5-year-old girl was in “serious condition” in June because her parents had not given her enough food.

There are many cases in which teachers and community members are aware of signs of child abuse but hesitate to talk with the children’s parents. Some parents become isolated because of poverty and other problems and vent their stress by abusing their children.

The health and welfare ministry in fiscal 2009 told municipalities to “make efforts” to regularly send public-health nurses, midwives and child care workers to homes with newborn babies to hear parents’ worries about rearing children. Children’s welfare center chiefs have been urged to compel school authorities to regularly report the attendance and absence of children suspected of being abuse victims.

Efforts by the public sector alone cannot solve the problem. People should never hesitate to appear meddlesome when child abuse is suspected.

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