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Gov't considers banning corporal punishment of children by parents

The Ministry of Justice is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The government and ruling coalition have begun considering legal revisions to ban corporal punishment of children by their guardians at home in a latest bid to prevent child abuse amid recent high-profile cases of child deaths after "disciplining" by parents, according to people familiar with the matter.

The government first intends to write a ban on corporal punishment into the Act on the Prevention, etc. of Child Abuse during the current session of the Diet, and will aim at removing from the Civil Code the "right to discipline" children for those exercising parental authority, they said.

The government wants to move ahead with the child abuse prevention act revision first because changing the Civil Code requires discussions at the Legislative Council, an advisory council to the justice minister, and will thus take time.

Discussions on the prohibition of corporal punishment to prevent child abuse have happened in the past. Particularly, the Civil Code provision on the "right to discipline" has been pointed out as a factor discouraging child consultation center officials from intervening in abuse cases rooted in "discipline."

Article 822 of the Civil Code states that a "person who exercises parental authority may discipline the child to the extent necessary for the care and education." The 2011 revision of the code said that disciplining is "for the child's interest" to make sure that this provision cannot be used as an excuse for child abuse. The Justice Ministry considers corporal punishment such as beatings should be "substantially limited," although it says that "the common sense of the times" is the basis for judgment. The School Education Act clearly bans corporal punishment by principles or teachers who are not legal guardians.

Yet deliberations at the Legislative Council in 2010 included opinions against banning corporal punishment, including some that said people might misunderstand that they cannot discipline their children. The prohibition therefore was not incorporated in the 2016 revisions to the anti-child abuse act although the item was discussed.

But "disciplining" was the reason cited for violence against 10-year-old Mia Kurihara of the city of Noda east of Tokyo, and 5-year-old Yua Funato of the capital's Meguro Ward, who both died after alleged parental abuse, sparking strong public interest in the issue. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to present a draft ordinance banning corporal punishment and verbal abuse against children by guardians to the metropolitan assembly, to be convened on Feb. 20. If approved, it would be the first local law of its kind in Japan.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a recommendation on Feb. 7 to the Japanese government saying a legal prohibition on corporal punishment should be introduced. On Feb. 13, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the House of Representatives Budget Committee that he would instruct the Justice Ministry to "review" the Civil Code provision on the right to discipline. Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita told reporters on Feb. 15 that he has "had departments in charge consider how to examine (the provision) and when," implying that he intends to refer the case to the Legislative Council.

Figures including a suprapartisan group of lawmakers discussing child abuse prevention headed by former welfare minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki have been calling for a total ban of corporal punishment by changing the anti-child abuse act. Yet some conservative members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are strongly against "intervention in family affairs," and the government is going to carefully consider the issue.

(Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Medical Welfare News Department)

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