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Japan releases guidelines against religious abuse of '2nd generation' followers

The building housing the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Details of a draft of guidelines by Japan's welfare ministry against religious abuse, compiled in response to complaints by "second generation" people born to Family Federation for World Peace and Unification followers, have become clear.

    The guidelines are written in a question and answer format to provide examples of abuse, such as slapping a child to force them to participate in religious activities. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare plans to notify child welfare centers and other bodies nationwide about the details by the end of this year.

    Japan's child abuse prevention law defines abuse as assault or indecent behavior by a guardian toward a child, neglect such as not taking care of a child, and emotionally traumatic behavior such as using abusive language at a child or rejecting them.

    However, it is said that there are cases in which child welfare centers do not know how to respond to such incidents out of consideration for "freedom of religion" as stipulated by the Constitution. The ministry has been pushing to compile the guidelines as "second generation" followers of the religious group formerly known as the Unification Church have been complaining that they "aren't recognized as victims of abuse for religious reasons."

    The draft guidelines clearly stipulate that basically even if the guardian or the child has a religious or some other kind of belief, the matter should be treated in the same way as a normal abuse case.

    Examples of physical abuse include slapping or whipping a child to force them to participate in religious activities. Psychological abuse includes threats such as saying "you're going to hell" to prevent children from choosing their own career paths, employment, relationships and marriages, as well as implanting strong fear by referring to their friends and teachers as enemies. Other behavior, such as not allowing the child to receive necessary medical treatment including blood transfusions, are mentioned as well.

    The draft guidelines also point out that child welfare centers should be careful in dealing with such issues, since the victimized children may not be able to see their own situation objectively due to the strong influence of their parents' values, and that offering guidance may inadvertently strengthen the influence of the parents and religious organizations. The guidelines urge child welfare centers to take measures such as taking children under temporary custody when necessary, without hesitation.

    The ministry is also considering including contact information for services that offer consultations on "spiritual sales" and financial problems for victims. The ministry issued a notice on how to respond to consultations on religious abuse in October, but dug deeper this time, providing specific examples and asking for cooperation with related organizations.

    (Japanese original by Takashi Kokaji and Haruna Okuyama, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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