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Japan panel agrees on draft guidelines for combatting physical punishment of children

The Central Government Building No. 5 in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this Feb. 2, 2019 file photo. (Mainichi/Kazuo Motohashi)

TOKYO -- In an attempt to prevent child abuse taking place under the pretense of discipline in Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and an investigative committee of experts largely agreed on Dec. 3 on draft guidelines on what constitutes corporal punishment, and how to stop it.

The guidelines make a distinction between discipline and physical punishment, which the document states is forbidden by the law as acts which "cause pain to children's physical person and make them feel emotional discomfort."

Concrete examples are included in the proposals, and even light physical punishments would be targeted by the changes. Acts of mental mistreatment, such as insulting or strong language, or ignoring a child, would be treated in the same way as corporal punishment.

When discussing the draft guidelines, the investigative commission considered June amendments to the Child Welfare Act and other laws which included passages expressly forbidding parental physical abuse. Attendees at the meeting said that in Japan there is a deep-rooted belief that physically punishing children as a form of discipline is unavoidable. They said that using those methods to suppress the young was unacceptable.

Members of the panel explained that corporal punishment can have a negative impact on children's development and infringes on their rights. It was also mentioned that methods such as hitting or shouting at children only produce control through fear, and could lead to a worsening of parent-child relations.

Additionally, the commission gave specific examples of actions that constitute physical punishment, such as slapping children in the face or forcing them to sit on their heels in the form known as "seiza" for long periods of time.

When the Child Welfare Act was amended, the government suggested that verbal abuse would not be included in legally banned punishment, as it was difficult to define what constituted such abuse. But the draft guidelines treat acts such as verbally abusing or ignoring children in the same way as physical punishment, on the basis that they are practices which can hurt children mentally.

The proposals also include preventative measures to help parents, including understanding how to treat their children and how to rethink their way of approaching parenthood. Descriptions of punitive measures for parents and others are not included.

The catalyst for changes to the Child Welfare Act came from the fatal abuse case of Yua Funato, then aged 5, in Tokyo's Meguro Ward in March 2018. It is believed to have been caused by violence dealt under the guise of discipline, and led to provisions banning corporal punishment by parents against children.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare intends to open the proposals up to public comment soon, and formulate the guidelines by the end of the current fiscal year.

Examples of physical punishment and acts that are mentally harmful to children, as described in the draft guidelines, include:

* Slapping a child in the face after they haven't listened to three prior verbal warnings.

* Forcing a child to sit on their heels in the uncomfortable "seiza" position after tampering with an important or valuable object.

* Punching a child for hitting and injuring one of their friends.

* Smacking a child's bottom for stealing another person's possessions.

* Not letting a child eat dinner because they didn't do their homework.

* Joking to a child in a way that belittles their existence, such as saying that it would have been better if they hadn't been born.

* Attempting to motivate a child through acts such as comparing them with their siblings to criticize or ignore them.

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

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