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Ministers seek urgent confirmation of child safety in abuse cases after girl's death

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a Cabinet ministers' meeting on strengthening measures to prevent child abuse, at the prime minister's office in Tokyo, on Feb. 8, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Ministers on Feb. 8 met and decided on a number of child protection measures, including emergency confirmation of abused children's safety within one month.

The decision at the meeting attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came on the heels of a high-profile case in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo in which a 10-year-old girl died and both of her parents were arrested.

Specifically, the health and education ministries will confirm the safety of children in abuse cases handled by child consultation centers across the nation as well as those in suspected cases recognized by public schools and education boards.

Referring to the case in Chiba Prefecture, Prime Minister Abe told participants at the gathering in his office, "We cannot regret enough the fact that a school, education board, child consultation center and other adults were unable to pick up on a heartbreaking SOS and protect a young life."

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there are about 30,000 new cases at child consolation centers each year in which officials provide instruction to parents at home. Under the emergency measure decided on Feb. 8, it is likely that child consultation centers will need to check the safety of children in tens of thousands of cases, including those that are ongoing.

"We will have them consider anew whether their assessments (of the seriousness of abuse) are appropriate, with consciousness of the problem," said a health ministry official at the meeting.

In the case of 10-year-old Mia Kurihara, who died in the city of Noda in Chiba Prefecture, the municipal education board bowed to the overbearing attitude of her father and handed him a school questionnaire in which Mia had sought help for abuse at home.

Under new measures decided on Feb. 8, the source of abuse information would never be revealed and such information would never be shown to the suspected perpetrator. If the child's guardian were to make intimidating demands, then this information would quickly be shared with a child consultation center and the police. Furthermore, the relevant ministers decided that if suspected child abuse victims were absent from school, then this information would quickly be relayed to a child consultation center.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will set up a working group with a state minister serving as general manager. This group will establish concrete rules on handling information, such as questionnaires filled in by children.

The government decided at the end of last year to increase the number of child welfare officers in charge of consultations with and guidance of guardians at child consultation centers. It plans to boost the number of officers by around 2020 by fiscal 2022. In line with this measure, the government confirmed it would aim to increase the number of officers this fiscal year by around 1,070 -- over half of the overall planned increase. The government also confirmed that a revision to the Child Welfare Act would be submitted during the current session of the Diet, incorporating improved worker credentials among other such measures.

(Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Medical Welfare News Department, and Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

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