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'Inhumane act': Osaka couple handed 13-yr term over death of daughter kept in tiny room

A joint government building housing the Osaka district, high and summary courts is seen in Osaka's Kita Ward. (Mainichi/Kazuhisa Soneda)

OSAKA -- A court here on March 12 handed down a 13-year prison sentence to a couple for confining their daughter with a mental disorder in a small room at their home for over 10 years and leaving her to freeze to death.

The lay judge trial at the Osaka District Court found Yasutaka Kakimoto, 57, and his 55-year-old wife Yukari guilty of confinement and abandonment of their parental responsibility that resulted in their daughter's death.

According to the ruling, their daughter Airi was diagnosed with a mental illness in 2001 and the couple began to confine her in a roughly 1-tatami-mat room they set up at their home in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, in western Japan in around 2002 or 2003. Airi was forced to live bare naked and was given only one meal per day. She weighed just 19 kilograms when she died at 33 years old, though she measured 145 centimeters tall.

"It is an inhumane act that denied the minimum dignity of the victim as a human being," Presiding Judge Takushi Noguchi said in handing down the ruling.

The couple has heretofore argued that the confinement was "intended for her recuperation" and that they "did not think she was in a life-threatening or dangerous situation." Their defense counsel claimed their innocence, saying that "it cannot be recognized that the small room had always been locked" and denied that their actions constituted the crime of confinement.

Presiding Judge Noguchi, however, pointed out that the room was basically locked and recognized that their daughter had been placed under confinement, not recuperation. "Airi had given up on going outside," he said.

Furthermore, the presiding judge stated that the couple failed to have their daughter see a doctor, even though they were aware that she was extremely skinny as they monitored her through a camera set up inside the room.

While the judge acknowledged that the confinement was in part aimed at stabilizing Airi's condition, he nevertheless criticized the defendants, saying, "They deprived their daughter of her freedom and isolated her from society, inhibiting her sound growth both physically and mentally. They maintained the then status quo out of fear that the situation would be brought to light."

In Japan, there are no signs of a decline in the number of cases where parents are accused of confining their children with mental disabilities. Yet the ruling for Airi's case stated, "The couple were overly indifferent to Airi, and the case is different (from other cases) in a qualitative way."

According to the ruling, the couple began to confine Airi in a small room in around March 2007. She was not fed sufficiently and froze to death in a state of malnutrition on around Dec. 18, 2017.

(Japanese original by Fumie Togami, Osaka City News Department)

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