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Editorial: Emergency survey on child abuse shows severity of problem exceeds expectations

Child abuse is not a phenomenon that occurs only in certain types of families. Survey results that point to the possibility that it can happen anywhere have emerged.

An emergency investigation was carried out together by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. According to the probe, of the children who had been absent from day cares and schools for long periods of time, and whose teachers visited their homes, 2,656 were deemed as "being at risk of child abuse." Of the children that teachers were unable to meet with, teachers determined that they "could not deny the possibility of child abuse" for 9,889 children.

This is the first time that the possibility that so many children are at risk of abuse has come to light. Amendments to the Child Welfare Act are to be submitted to the Diet in the current session. But explicitly incorporating a ban on corporal punishment by parents in the law and beefing up child consultation center services is insufficient. We must come up with a fundamental solution that gets schools and local communities involved.

Absenteeism at the elementary and junior high school levels is on the rise, and in the 2017 academic year, reached a record high of over 140,000 students. The education ministry has been shifting its position, not necessarily interpreting non-attendance at traditional schools as negative. One example is the enthusiastic acceptance of students attending so-called "free schools." Teachers in Japan are incredibly busy, and in increasingly more cases, they have been unable to follow up on absentee students by visiting them at their homes or through other measures.

Meanwhile, child consultation centers are up to their necks in reports of abuse, whose numbers continue to grow. Because nearly 80 percent of children who have died by abuse are between the ages of zero and three, child consultation centers have had little manpower left to tend to older children who do not go to school.

A fourth-grade girl who was found dead at her home in the Chiba Prefecture city of Noda in January this year had not been to school for at least a month, which included the school's winter break. Her parents are said to have feared that the bruises on the girl's face would tip people off to the abuse she was subjected to at home. This has once again underscored the great possibility that abused children could be among those who are absent from school for long periods of time.

It is shocking that it cannot be denied that nearly 10,000 absentee children whom teachers have been unable to meet up with may be abused. It has already been pointed out in surveys carried out by the health ministry and civic organizations that there are many children whose whereabouts municipal governments are unable to confirm. Many of the children who cannot be located by local authorities may overlap with many of the nearly 10,000 absentee students mentioned above.

We cannot deny that society's sensitivity to an abnormal state of affairs -- in which school-age children do not attend school for long durations and municipal governments cannot verify the location of so many children -- had been lacking.

Society as a whole must view abuse as a problem that affects each and every person, and make a commitment to improve the situation.

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