Child abuse soars to record high in Japan amid fury at 10-year-old girl’s death at home

Child abuse soars to record high in Japan amid fury at 10-year-old girl's death at home

Suspected child abuse cases in Japan soared above 80,000 for the first time last year, according to new figures released amid a growing furore over the recent death of a 10-year-old schoolgirl.

The National Police Agency reported a record high of 80,104 children to welfare authorities in 2018, marking a sharp rise of more than 22 per cent compared to the previous year and a 13-fold increase from ten years earlier.

A string of high-profile child abuse cases that have shocked the nation are thought to have fuelled growing public awareness of the issue in Japan, which experts believe is a key factor in the dramatic surge in figures.

The latest statistics were released against the backdrop of growing anger over the death of Mia Kurihara, 10, who was found dead in the bathroom of her home in Chiba, near Tokyo, last month following a history of abuse from her father.

The schoolgirl had bravely made an appeal for help from her “violent” father two years ago in a school questionnaire which she was reassured would be kept confidential but was later shown to her parents.

“My father is violent towards me,” she wrote. “He wakes me up in the middle of the night and kicks and beats me. Teacher, is there anything you can do about this?”

The schoolgirl was sent into protective custody before being returned to her family a month later, while her father is thought to have subsequently forced her to write a note saying she had lied about his abuse.

Last month, Mia was absent from school for several weeks before her death, with her father reportedly telling teachers that she was visiting family in southern Okinawa.

However, her mother, also thought to have been a victim of his domestic violence, has claimed that during the winter school holidays, her husband caused visible bruising after beating Mia and he did not want to raise suspicion by allowing her out of the home. Both parents have been arrested in relation to her death.

The heart-rending details of the run-up to her death, covered extensively in Japanese media, have prompted widespread calls for urgent reform of the nation’s social welfare system.

Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, pledged full-scale efforts to eradicate child abuse, adding that Mia’s case was “heart-wrenching and should never have happened”.

Cabinet ministers were holding a meeting on Friday to discuss new rules to improve communication between authorities and the handling of information received on children who are suspected abuse victims.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also urged Japan to do more to permit children to live more happily and safely, free of excessive pressures of physical punishment at school or home.

The human rights watchdog also urged the government to tackle adolescent suicide which has hit a 30-year high, with a record 250 children taking their own lives during the last financial year, despite an overall decline in rates.

“We urged (Japan) to take measures to ensure that children enjoy their childhood, without their childhood and development being harmed by the competitive nature of society,” Kirsten Sandberg, one of a panel of 18 independent experts, told a briefing.

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