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Editorial: Local bodies must provide support to curb child abuse

Child guidance centers across the country dealt with 122,578 cases of child abuse in fiscal 2016, an increase of some 20,000 from a year earlier, according to preliminary figures released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The number of child abuse cases has posted annual double-digit percentage increases in recent years, and has nearly doubled over the past four years.

Psychological abuse accounts for 52 percent of all cases. Last year, the National Police Agency laid out a policy of reporting suspected child abuse cases to child guidance centers even if the facts cannot be immediately confirmed. There are reportedly a growing number of cases in which police have notified child guidance centers of domestic violence involving married couples after deeming that such violence constitutes psychological abuse against their children.

There are also a growing number of cases of people reporting to child consultation centers that they often hear children crying in their neighborhoods. In order to save potential victims and support parents who need help, it is important to pick up on even slight signs of possible child abuse. In that sense, it is not necessarily bad news that the number of child abuse reports filed with child guidance centers has been growing.

However, if the number of reports on such cases continues to grow, it will increase the burden on workers at child guidance centers, thereby preventing them from properly responding to urgent cases.

There have been a series of cases in which child guidance centers were too slow to respond to child abuse reports to be able to save the victims. Therefore, such centers are now mandated to visit potential victims' homes within 48 hours in principle after receiving reports on possible child abuse to confirm their safety.

Under the Child Welfare Act amended last year, municipal governments are required to try to set up comprehensive support centers for pregnant women and families with children. Moreover, child guidance centers can refer minor child abuse cases to municipal governments with the aim of lessening the burden on workers at those centers and allowing them to concentrate on serious cases.

Municipal governments have already provided maternal and child health services, such as health checkups on newborn babies and infants, and are in a position to be able to identify families at high risk of child abuse. Moreover, these local bodies can easily establish cooperative relations with private organizations supporting children.

Smaller towns and villages need assistance from prefectural governments. The Saitama Prefectural Government has enacted an ordinance which obligates workers at welfare facilities in the prefecture to undergo training to prevent abuse and calls for improving relevant systems through cooperation with municipalities to enhance preventive measures. Efforts should be made in all regional communities to remove barriers between concerned organizations.

The number of child welfare officers working at child guidance centers across the country increased by 1.4 times over the 10-year period up to fiscal 2016, but the increase in the number of child abuse cases that these centers dealt with outpaced that -- rising by 3.3 times over the same period. Municipal governments should scramble to reinforce functional capacity at municipal governments to respond to the rapid increase in the number of such cases.

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