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Editorial: Increase in child abuse consultations in Japan demands enhanced measures

The number of abuse consultations fielded by child consultation centers across Japan has continued to reach record highs. Last fiscal year, there were over 190,000 cases -- 20% more than during the previous fiscal year.

    Particularly prominent is the rise in domestic violence committed in front of children. Cases of physical abuse and neglect are also increasing.

    The child consultation center system, which play a central role in responding to abuse cases, needs to be strengthened.

    The government has laid out plans to increase the number of child welfare workers by around 2,000 by fiscal 2022, to bring the total number above 5,000. Even so, Tokyo's 23 wards and other areas that have been pressing ahead with establishing new consultation centers have been struggling to secure new workers. Considering that the number of consultations is increasing, we hope the government will put even more effort into training workers for this role.

    There has been an increase in the ratio of child welfare workers with less than three years in their roles, with half of them in such a state as of April this year. We fear that this inexperience will hinder communication with parents and guardians. It is important not only to increase the number of workers, but also to raise the quality of their response to abuse.

    It is therefore essential to assign veteran workers evenly to leading roles, and to enrich training. The practice of changing people's workplaces every few years should be reviewed, to create an environment in which it is easy for staff to accumulate experience.

    As the job involves a great deal of stress, there should also be a system in place for workers to access mental health resources.

    In fiscal 2018, a total of 54 children died because of abuse, excluding murder-suicide cases. The top cause of death was neglect. Unwanted pregnancies and isolation of households raising children played a role in these cases.

    Yet child consultation centers were able to get involved in only 30% of these cases. Municipalities should spread awareness that consultation services are available from the time of pregnancy, and strengthen measures to reach out to households that are not participating in infant health checkups.

    This year brings the added concern of the coronavirus pandemic's impact. There have been cases in which children have been subjected to violence from parents working at home, and it is said that even for households that require support, there have been cases in which visits by child consultation center workers have been refused over infection fears. Officials need to pay attention to whether abuse is being buried as a result.

    To protect children, we hope that child consultation centers and municipalities will collaborate with schools, day care centers and private bodies including cafeterias that provide free or inexpensive meals to kids.

    Japan has an abuse consultation hotline number -- 189 -- that people can call even if they are not the guardian of the child concerned. It is important for society as a whole to keep a protective eye on children across the country.

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