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144 cases of abuse at public child welfare institutions in 2014 and 2015: investigation

There were a total of 144 cases of abuse at child welfare institutions or foster homes in fiscal 2014 and 2015, information gathered by the Mainichi Shimbun from 69 prefectural and municipal governments with child guidance centers has shown.

    From fiscal 2009, a system was put in place taking steps toward the early discovery of abuse cases occurring within facilities, which are rarely brought to the surface. As part of the system, 69 major local bodies, including all prefectures and specially designated cities with populations over 500,000 people, are required by law to make information about child abuse public, but it has been discovered that 16 of these prefectural and municipal governments have not once disclosed the number of child abuse cases or other related information.

    Under the 2009 revision of the Child Welfare Act, the 69 prefectural and municipal governments are required to publicly release information on abuse cases and their handling every fiscal year. However, since there were some local governments that did not release this information, the Mainichi Shimbun investigated child guidance centers in the 47 prefectures, the 20 specially designated cities and two core cities, Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture and Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture.

    It was found that there were a total of 427 cases of claim forms submitted by the child themselves or reports filed by staff members and other related parties for both years, and 64 cases in fiscal 2014 and 80 cases in fiscal 2015 of child abuse were confirmed. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare says there were 39 to 87 cases between fiscal 2009 and 2013.

    Of the cases, 98 occurred at social welfare institutions, such as care homes for children who cannot live with their parents or children's self-reliance support facilities, 21 cases at foster parents' homes, 20 cases at facilities for children with disabilities, four cases at temporary custodial institutions like those at child guidance centers and one other case.

    As for the age of the children involved, excluding Fukushima, Niigata, Kochi and Saga prefectures which did not provide the information, there were 20 infants, 51 elementary school children, 53 junior high school students, 38 high school students and four others. There were also nine cases where the abuse involved three children or more or did not specify the number of children abused in Tokyo, Aichi Prefecture and elsewhere. The mode of abuse, which included multiple answers, came out to 85 cases of physical abuse, 34 of emotional abuse, 28 of sexual abuse and eight cases of neglect or abandonment, among others.

    The revised Child Welfare Act does not specify a standard method for governments to make this information public, though it is typical for it to be posted on the governments' homepage. Prefectural and municipal governments that have not once made the information public since being required by law to do so in 2009 are the nine prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, Chiba, Kanagawa, Niigata, Fukui, Hiroshima, Tokushima and Kagawa, along with the seven cities of Sapporo, Chiba, Kawasaki, Yokosuka, Shizuoka, Sakai and Kanazawa.

    As for the reasons why the information was not made public, a representative from the Niigata Prefectural Government stated that they were slow to make rules about how the information should be presented. The Kanagawa and Chiba prefectural governments stated that reporting the information to a panel of specialists specifically was considered publicizing the information, while representatives from Kagawa Prefecture and other governments said that they thought reporting the information to the central government was considered publicizing the information.

    The government representatives of many specially designated cities and core cities such as Sapporo, Chiba and Kawasaki said that they did not believe there was a need to make the information public since there were no cases of abuse that had occurred.

    The revised law states that if employees of welfare facilities become aware of abuse by either other staff or foster guardians, they are required to report the case to the child guidance center or other related organizations. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare had been releasing information like the number of reports from prefectural and municipal governments, but halted this practice after fiscal 2013.

    "This is because the clerical work is backed up," a representative from the ministry explained.

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