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Amendments to the laws on child welfare and measures against child abuse, submitted to the Diet by the government earlier this month, explicitly prohibit corporal punishment of children by their guardians. That is a response to the repeated excuse reportedly uttered by parents accused of abusing their children: they were just trying to “discipline” them. It’s undeniable that compared with many other countries corporal punishment by parents has long been condoned as a means to discipline children in Japan. The nation’s Civil Code carries a provision stating that people with parental authority can discipline their children “to the extent necessary” for their custody and education.

In that sense, legally banning corporal punishment may constitute progress since it can be difficult to draw a line between where corporal punishment in the name of discipline ends and child abuse begins. The proposed amendments state the Civil Code provision on disciplining children should also be reviewed within two years. However, simply banning corporal punishment — without punitive provisions for offenders — won’t do much to stop child abuse, which claimed the lives of at least 36 children last year. Also crucial are efforts to beef up the system that responds to suspected cases of child abuse, deals with the parents, intervenes in families to protect abused children, and punishes those responsible for harming the children.

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