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2009年8月28日 (金)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 27(IHT/Asahi: August 28,2009)
EDITORIAL: Rise in child abuse cases

The number of children dying at the hands of abusive parents and guardians is rising. Slightly more than 100 children are losing their lives to abuse each year. The figure, which includes those caught up in family murder-suicides, means that on average two children are being killed each week.

Cases into which child guidance centers investigate are also on the rise. In fiscal 2008, centers across Japan handled some 43,000 cases, a record high and a six-fold increase from 10 years before. We are appalled at the number of parents who use force against their children or neglect to properly care for them.

Since the child abuse prevention law went into effect in 2000, the government has strengthened the authority of child guidance centers in phases. Since 2004, abused children can be admitted to child welfare facilities without the consent of parents so long as the action has court approval. Starting spring 2008, in cases where child abuse is suspected and guardians refuse to cooperate with authorities, the centers have been empowered to break locks and enter homes with court permission.

There were two such cases in fiscal 2008. In the Tohoku region, a girl of lower grade of elementary school age was taken into protective custody. Although she had not been to school at all, in two months after entering a children's home, she was able to read and write hiragana. Her parents reacted with hostility at first, but eventually relented and agreed to her admittance to the children's home.

The local child guidance center had been in contact with the girl's family for several years but was unable to even meet with them. That prompted officials to raid the house.

"When we use force, relations with guardians tend to deteriorate. We try to avoid it as much as possible but we made an agonizing choice for the sake of the child," the director of the center said.

However, for children to recover from the trauma of abuse, welfare facilities do not always provide adequate settings. Nationwide, such facilities are nearly full and in some areas, they are packed beyond capacity. There are only 31 medical facilities across the nation that can provide intensive care to children suffering from the trauma of abuse.

Child welfare facilities need to drastically increase their staff numbers, especially with regard to psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in treating abused children. Each caseworker at child guidance centers handles about 100 cases. The figure is more than double that of the United States and Europe. Even though the number of staff has increased over the past 10 years, it has yet to catch up with the steep rise in child abuse cases.

While action must be taken to separate and protect such children from their parents, the important thing is to work toward providing support until children and parents can be reunited. Society must help by supporting neighbors facing family problems and poverty.

In cases of death resulting from causes other than murder-suicides in families, 80 percent of the victims were children 3 years old or younger. Nearly half of them were not even 1 year old. In many cases, they are children of unwanted pregnancies or the mothers have mental problems, officials say.

As a measure to prevent child abuse, local governments across Japan are initiating programs to ensure that all families of newborns are visited by an official within four months of birth. Officials speak to parents and listen to their anxieties and problems concerning child care and, if necessary, refer them to nonprofit organizations, welfare programs, hospitals or other organizations that specialize in child-care problems. Such systems will prove more effective if they are put to practice from pregnancy.

Local community networks should watch over young parents with problems in an effort to reduce as many victims of child abuse as possible.


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