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Editorial: Latest fatal child abuse case shows Japan is in a dire situation

Yet another tragedy has occurred with the death of a 4-year-old girl in the Kagoshima Prefecture city of Izumi in southwestern Japan and the arrest of her mother's live-in partner on suspicion of abuse.

The girl was taken to a hospital after "drowning in the bath," but multiple bruises were reportedly found on her body. Kagoshima Prefectural Police are investigating her death, suspecting she was physically abused on a daily basis.

It is unbearable that there were many chances to save the young girl's life, but they were not followed through.

In March this year, when the mother and child were living in the Kagoshima Prefecture city of Satsumasendai, a child consultation center received an anonymous tip about a video of a man aiming a shower at the girl's face. The child consultation center and a city official met with the girl and her mother, but they were unable to confirm any bruises leading to suspicions of abuse.

On top of this, prefectural police took the girl into custody four times in March and April after she was found alone outside late at night. On two of the occasions, police asked the child consultation center to consider temporarily taking the girl into protective custody, but the center went no further than treating the incidents as neglect.

In early August, after the mother and child moved to Izumi, a hospital reported to the municipal government that there was a girl with multiple bruises, but this information was not relayed to the child consultation center or prefectural police.

The Izumi Municipal Government and child consultation center were clearly lax in their handling of the incidents. Following a succession of high-profile fatal abuse cases that claimed the lives of a 5-year-old girl in Tokyo's Meguro Ward and a 10-year-old girl in the city of Noda in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, it was necessary for them to perform their jobs while being aware of the risks. They bear a heavy responsibility for effectively overlooking circumstances hinting of serious neglect and information raising suspicions of habitual violence.

Authorities had not realized the suspect in the girl's case was living with the mother and her daughter. In addition to temporarily taking the girl into protective custody, they should have obtained a better account from the mother on the girl's family situation.

Child consultation centers across Japan are facing a shortage of workers. Last fiscal year, child welfare officers had to deal with an average of 46.7 child abuse consultations each. In Kagoshima Prefecture, the corresponding figure was 30.6 -- lower than the national average -- but we should take this as a sign that Japan is in a dire situation.

Unless related bodies have a strong will to make sure they do not overlook any signs of abuse, Japan will not be able to prevent such tragedies. We must put an end to the kind of handling of cases that leaves us lamenting over lives that could have been saved.

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