We as a society have been confronted, once again, by the question of how we should react and respond to crimes committed against innocent children.
This time, a second-grade elementary school student was led away and killed on her way home from school in the Niigata prefectural capital. A 23-year-old local man was arrested by prefectural police in connection with the case.
The crime was a particularly heinous one, in which the perpetrator abandoned the girl's dead body on train tracks, and let a train run her over. It is difficult to contain one's anger upon learning the details of the case. We cannot begin to imagine the sorrow that the girl's family and teachers must feel having had a young child's future filled with potential ripped away from them in such a violent manner.
The girl left her school with a friend at around 3 p.m. on May 7. She is believed to have been led away after she parted ways with her friend.
Unfortunately, there is no end to such cases where children are abducted or lured by adults. The number of cases in which children are taken away has hovered at around 100 cases per year nationwide. In 2014, a first-grade girl was lured into a man's home and killed on her way home from school in Kobe.
According to a Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) survey, around 60 percent of elementary schools across the country have their students go to school and home in groups, while nearly 90 percent implement a system in which community volunteers and parents watch over students as they make their way home.
However, students leave school for home within a relatively broad span of time. It must be more difficult to keep an eye on students leaving school, compared to when students leave home to go to school -- which is generally at around the same time for all students. It is when there are holes in a community's monitoring of students that criminals are able to find a spot where they can commit crimes without being detected.
It is important that elementary school students -- especially those in the lower grades who lack the capacity to respond quickly and appropriately to unexpected situations -- are not left alone as much as possible. We must beef up efforts to keep watch over children as communities.
An effective measure would be for schools and parents to thoroughly inspect individual students' routes to and from school. The adults could identify which parts are relatively deserted, and which parts have structures that could allow potential perpetrators to hide in or behind, and depending on those findings, change students' school commutes and warn children to keep away from those areas.
Some schools, as part of crime-prevention education, have the students themselves walk around their schools' surrounding environs to determine where suspicious individuals may possibly appear, and create their own crime-prevention maps. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for schools to receive information about suspicious individuals from police, and send that information with a warning to students' parents via email. Such measures should be made more widespread.
It is important to repeatedly advise children, both in schools and in homes, about basic actions for defending oneself, such as using crime-prevention alarm systems or mobile phones and yelling and calling for help when they are in danger. We have no choice but to prevent vicious crimes against children through the implementation of multi-layered precautionary measures.