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Mother tells police she kept girl at home because of bruises from father's beatings

An apartment block in the city of Noda, near Tokyo, where Mia Kurihara was allegedly abused by her father, is seen is this photo taken on Jan. 25, 2019. (Mainichi/Tadashi Hashiguchi)

The mother of 10-year-old Mia Kurihara, who died after alleged parental abuse, has told police that she kept her daughter inside for a month because of prominent bruises from beatings inflicted by her husband, according to people close to the investigation.

Mia, a fourth grader in the city of Noda in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo, was absent from her elementary school for about one month before she was found dead at her home on Jan. 24. As the girl's body had several bruises, the Chiba Prefectural Police believe that the parents stopped sending the girl to school fearing their abuse would be exposed.

Yuichiro and Nagisa Kurihara, Mia's parents, were arrested on suspicion of causing bodily injuries to their daughter.

Nagisa, 31, has told investigators that Yuichiro, 41, kept Mia standing for many hours straight on multiple occasions saying he was disciplining the girl. "I told him to stop but he never listened to me," Nagisa was quoted as telling the police.

Police suspect that Nagisa cooperated with the father to keep their daughter at home because she feared that noticeable bruises on parts of Mia's body not covered by clothing would lead to Yuichiro's abuse being discovered, police suspect.

Mia was apparently not given enough food when Yuichiro was not at home and for several days before her death. She was made to stand for many hours, and forced to stand up again when she collapsed. Nagisa reported about Mia to Yuichiro while he was away from home.

According to the Noda Municipal Government and other sources, Mia last attended elementary school on Dec. 21, 2018. She didn't come to classes on Jan. 7 when school resumed in the New Year. Yuichiro called the school on that day and said that his daughter was at Nagisa's parents' home in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa for winter vacation and would be absent for a while. The father called again on Jan. 11 saying Mia would stay in Okinawa until the end of January as the health of her great-grandmother was deteriorating.

--- Ex-child consultation center chief admits mistakes in protection of abused girl

Meanwhile, the former chief of the child consultation center who placed Mia under temporary protective custody but returned her to the parents said that the official "made a misjudgment" about the severity of the abuse.

"I caused Mia to have a terrible experience. I am really sorry," said the former chief of the Kashiwa center near Noda.

The center placed Mia under protection after she complained of violence by the father in a school bullying survey in November 2017. The center gave her a high-priority emergency protection rating of "AA."

The former director said they saw Mia about twice inside the center. "My impression was that she was an ordinary elementary school pupil. She was not particularly gloomy or restless." The center lowered its emergency protection evaluation to "B" the following December and decided to lift protective custody.

"This decision was wrong," said the ex-chief. The former official also mentioned the difficulty of making this kind of judgment, saying, "As a general argument, if the abuser does not admit to abuse and the victim does not show fear, potential risks can go unnoticed."

The consultation center decided on Feb. 28, 2018 to return Mia to her parents from relatives she had been living with after her release from protective custody. About this decision, the former director said that what needed to be considered was the "feasibility of forcible protection when the child has no injuries and the family is against such action." The ex-official nevertheless added that there was "a mistake in the evaluation of associated risks."

In a related development, the Chiba Prefectural Government revealed on Feb. 7 that the record of a meeting where the Kashiwa consultation center decided to return Mia home did not include the required written opinion of the girl's case worker. The caseworker verbally explained Mia and her family's situation based on interviews with them, and their opinion on how they should respond to the case, but did not make a paper record, according to prefectural officials. Such a document is required in a prefectural manual on making decisions about supporting abused children.

During the meeting, officials discussed abuse risks Mia was facing. On a scale of 25, they rated Mia's situation at 8, up from 5 shortly after her protective custody was lifted. Officials generally consider protection when the score is 15 or higher, said prefectural officials.

(Japanese original by Nobuta Mayumi, Shohei Kato and Buntaro Saito, Chiba Bureau)

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