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Suspected child abuse cases in Japan hit record high of about 160,000 in FY18: ministry

A man prays in Tokyo's Meguro Ward on June 8, 2018, in front of a spontaneous memorial to Yua Funato, who died of suspected neglect in March that year. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The number of cases where child consultation centers across the country received reports or were talked to over alleged abuse in fiscal 2018 came to nearly 160,000, the highest on record, according to preliminary figures released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on Aug. 1.

The increase is apparently attributable to a rise in the number of reports filed by police over suspected psychological abuse.

The ministry is poised to step up countermeasures against child abuse. "We would like to take seriously the fact that the figure has hit a record high, and strengthen countermeasures steadily, including those under revisions to the Child Welfare Act," said a ministry official.

There were 159,850 cases where child guidance centers were consulted over suspected abuse in the year ended March 2019, up 19.5% from the previous fiscal year.

Meanwhile, 65 children died as a result of abuse in fiscal 2017, including 13 who died in murder-suicide cases. The total figure is 12 less than the previous year.

The most common type of child abuse is psychological, including violence against spouses in front of children, standing at 88,389 cases and accounting for 55.3% of the total. The figure is up 16,192 from a year earlier. The number of physical abuse cases stood at 40,256, or 25.2% of the total. The number of incidents of neglect totaled 29,474, or 18.4%, while there were 1,731 cases of sexual abuse, making up 1.1% of all figures.

Of the total, about half, or 79,150 cases, were reported by police and other institutions to child consultation centers, an increase of 19.8% from the previous fiscal year. The number of reported cases has increased apparently due to strengthened cooperation between the police, which can often identify spousal violence in front of children, and child consultation centers.

By prefecture, the largest number of reports was filed in Osaka at 20,694, up 12.4% from a year earlier. Kanagawa, south of Tokyo, had 17,272 cases, 24% more than the previous fiscal year, while Tokyo had 16,967 cases, an increase of 23.8%.

The number of victims of fatal child abuse, excluding those of murder-suicide cases, came to 52, and 28 of the victims were under the age of 1. Some 22 of the children were victims of physical abuse, while 20 others died as a result of neglect by their guardians.

The ministry had worked out guidelines requiring child consultation centers to confirm whether alleged victims of abuse were safe within 48 hours after receiving reports on suspected mistreatment, following the death of 5-year-old Yua Funato in Tokyo's Meguro Ward in March 2018 after being abused by her parents.

According to the ministry, child consultation centers across the country received 153,571 reports on alleged child abuse over an 11-month period from July last year when the guidelines came into force. In 11,984 cases, or 7.8% of the total, it took child consultation centers more than 48 hours to confirm whether alleged victims were safe.

Child consultation centers deemed that 415 of these cases required urgent responses and confirmed that alleged victims were safe through subsequent visits and other actions.

(Japanese original by Takuya Murata, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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