According to the National Police Agency (NPA), police nationwide reported 37,020 children as suspected of being abused to child consultation centers last year. It was the worst figure on record.
What's striking about the data is that the types of abuse on the rise are different from those that were common in the past. There was a 41 percent increase in verbal abuse and other forms of emotional abuse -- the most noteworthy of which were cases in which children witnessed parents and other family members being violent toward each other.
Some may argue that it's not such a big problem if children are just seeing the violence and are not being targeted by it, but that's hardly the case. Children suffer deep emotional wounds when they see their father hit their mother, or their parents hit a sibling. Not only do they wonder if they might be next, they blame themselves for not being able to help the ones who are being abused.
One person I know told me that as a child, they had watched their younger sister always being hit by their father. When I said, "You're lucky you were never hit," the person shook their head. "I should've been the one to be hit. My sister did nothing wrong. I'm a really cruel person for having pretended to see nothing."
The person managed to graduate from school and find work, but even when they found someone they liked, they couldn't think about dating or marriage. The person was convinced that someone who could not save their sister did not deserve to be happy.
"You did nothing wrong. You were still a young child, so it's no surprise that you weren't able to protect your sister from the violence," I said. It took a long time for that person's sense of guilt to subside.
Getting food on the table and bringing up children is difficult nowadays, and no matter how much love you have for your children, it's not hard to suddenly get the urge to hit them or blurt out that you wish they'd never been born. What, then, can be done to prevent parents from having such emotional outbursts?
Blaming them for their violence is actually counterproductive. First, we as a society must create refuges where parents can escape to for help. Sure, there is a huge lack of daycare centers. But we also lack places where parents who are barely keeping their head above the water making a living and raising children can seek help. It is important to get insurance to cover fertility treatments. But just as pressing is the creation of a societal framework in which both parents and their children can live happily. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)