Child guidance centers throughout the country recognized and took action in a record 59,862 cases of child abuse during fiscal 2011, an increase of 3,478 from fiscal 2010 (statistics for Fukushima Prefecture for fiscal 2011 were unavailable because of the 3/11 disasters), the health and welfare ministry announced July 26.

The ministry explained that heightened awareness among people of child abuse has led to more people reporting even suspected cases to child guidance centers.

Still, it is alarming that the number of child-abuse cases has climbed for 21 straight years.

If the ministry’s explanation is correct, the trend pointed out by it is welcome. The law to prevent child abuse requires every citizen to report to a child guidance center, a welfare office or a local government if he or she notices child abuse.

It is important to have every citizen know about this legal obligation. There is the possibility that many people are unaware of this duty under the law. Citizens should be encouraged to report to those facilities if they notice even a small sign of child abuse.

By prefecture, Osaka saw the largest number of child-abuse cases at 8,900, followed by Kanagawa with 7,296 cases and Tokyo with 4,559 cases.

Studies of child-abuse cases in fiscal 2010 showed that 51 children died because of abuse that year, two more than in the previous year. It is especially sad that 43 of them, or more than 80 percent, were 3 years old or younger.

By age group, infants who had not reached their first birthday constituted the largest group of fatalities at 23.

Many cases of child abuse stem from young mothers’ uneasiness about raising children or irritation with their children’s behavior.

Due to the spread of nuclear families, it has become difficult for young mothers to share their experiences in child rearing with older women. They need help and support.

Young mothers should be encouraged to talk about their difficulties with friends, relatives and neighbors and to receive advice from them.

Local governments need to improve services for listening to young mothers’ worries about child rearing and for giving them advice.

Under a revision of the Civil Code that went into force in April 2012, parental prerogatives may be suspended for up to two years to protect children from abuse. During the three months after the revision took effect, there were seven cases in six prefectures in which child guidance center heads filed requests to suspend parental prerogatives with family courts.

It is hoped that this system will be effectively used not only to protect children but also to support and educate parents who indicate a tendency to abuse children.

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