MAEBASHI -- The first shelter in the northern Kanto region of Japan to offer emergency accommodation to girls who cannot return home due to abuse or other reasons opened its doors in May.
The shelter, named "Oz," was launched in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, by the incorporated nonprofit organization "Kodomo Shelter Gunma," whose members include lawyers and social welfare workers in the prefecture. While there are about 20 such shelters for children nationwide, this is the first in the northern Kanto region.
Oz envisages accepting those aged up to 19 -- offering a wider range of protection than child consultation centers, which shelter children up to the age of 17. The facility will be staffed 24 hours a day. In addition to providing meals and a place to live, it will support girls legally by allocating a lawyer to each of them.
According to Kodomo Shelter Gunma, it will accommodate those in its care for periods ranging from a week to two months for free when they are referred to the facility by child consultation centers or if they wish to be sheltered. Staff members will carefully listen to the girls about problems they face, and if necessary, lawyers will provide support, including mediating in parent-child relationships and initiating procedures to terminate parental rights.
The founders named the shelter after the children's novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," hoping girls will fulfill their wishes through spending time with friends (staff members in this case) like the protagonist Dorothy. To ensure safety, Oz's location is not made public. It can accommodate up to six girls, and has private rooms and a living room.
Lawyers in the prefecture that came together on a volunteer basis started working in 2018 to launch the facility. One of the lawyers, Izumi Funato, explained, "When I worked on a juvenile case, I felt the outcome would have been different if the child had had a place they could turn to."
It is not uncommon for children to get involved in crimes after running away from home. According to Gunma Prefectural Police's personal safety division, missing person reports on 155 minors were submitted to the police in 2020, accounting for 16% of all reports on missing people.
"We feel a sense of responsibility in that their lives are in our hands," said lawyer Kenichi Yada, Kodomo Shelter Gunma's representative. "We hope children will freely consult us about anything, including things they can't tell their friends or teachers."
For more information, contact Kodomo Shelter Gunma by phone at 027-212-6080 or by email at email@example.com (in Japanese). The organization is also seeking donations and volunteers.
(Japanese original by Atsuko Suzuki, Maebashi Bureau)