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Japan's child abuse growth rate slowing, but pandemic may be obscuring cases

The entrance to Central Government Building No. 2, which houses the National Police Agency, is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo in 2019. (Mainichi/Kazuo Motohashi)

TOKYO -- The provisional number of suspected abuse cases of children 18 and under that police reported to child consultation centers across Japan in 2021 was the greatest since police began keeping records in 2004, the National Police Agency announced Feb. 3. But the figure's growth rate from 2020 to 2021 was substantially lower than that between 2019 to 2020, pointing to the possibility that restrictions on going out due to the coronavirus pandemic have made child abuse less visible.

    The provisional figure for total suspected child abuse cases in 2021 was 108,050, up 1,059 from 2020. The abuse growth rate in 2021 was just 1.0%, while the rate the year before stood at 8.9%.

    In 2021, 80,299 cases (up 2.4% from 2020) of psychological abuse were reported -- which includes using violence against one's spouse in front of a child, or verbally abusing a child -- comprising 74.3% of all reported cases. There were 19,185 physical abuse cases (down 1.4% from 2020), 8,270 cases of neglect (down 6.6% from 2020), and 296 sexual abuse cases (up 0.3% from 2020).

    The number of cases in which perpetrators were caught by police reached a record high at 2,170, but just 37 cases more than in the previous year. Perpetrators of physical abuse comprised the largest group to be exposed, at 1,762 cases.

    Meanwhile, domestic violence consultations and reports reached a record high of 83,035, but the growth rate was a mere 0.5% -- a sluggish increase similar to 2020. The number of perpetrators police reported was 8,633, down 69.

    Fumihiko Kawasaki, a former child consultation center worker and the head of the Children's Rainbow Center in Yokohama, said of child abuse, "Changes in living patterns, such as refraining from going out due to stay-at-home advisories, have limited the time and places where children come in contact with other people, making it difficult for abuse to be detected."

    Kawasaki also said that the coronavirus pandemic may make abuse more likely. "Parents stressed out by economic hardships caused by temporary business closures and unemployment could direct violence at their children, with whom they now spend much more time at home," he explained. In addition, he said that parents express reluctance to accept home visits by child consultation center staff, citing the spread of infections, and has heard from frontline workers that it has been difficult to confirm children's safety in some cases.

    Parents have fewer opportunities to commiserate with one another over issues related to raising children due to the cancellation of school events, which may isolate them and possibly aggravate abuse. "If people can just say something like, 'Things are tough, aren't they?' to each other in their communities, it can actually be very helpful."

    (Japanese original by Naritake Machida, Tokyo City News Department)

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