Two shocking instances of child abuse have come out of Japan in as many days highlighting the upward trend of cases in recent years.
The Asahi Shimbun reports that a charge against a man accused of sexually abusing two girls has been dismissed because one of the victims was deemed “too young” to provide accurate evidence.
The defendant was sentenced to 13 years prison for crimes including rape and indecency against a 10-year-old and her 15-year-old sister.
But one charge of forcible indecency was dropped because the 10-year-old failed to produce a written complaint by herself.
The court said: “There remains considerable questions over the girl’s competence to file a complaint.”
But prosecutors insist that the girl was old enough – and competent enough – for her evidence to be “deemed reliable”.
One court official said: “[The victim] said her life was like a hell at that time.”
And again Japan Today writes of a 23-year-old mother who has been arrested for abusing her newborn twins by throwing them to the ground.
Medical checks revealed that one child had a fractured skull and brain contusion while the other sustained injuries to the head, arms and legs. Injuries to both children took months to heal.
The mother’s justification for her violence was she couldn’t sleep because the babies kept crying.
Japan’s National Police Agency recognises that violence to children at their parent’s hand is “one of the biggest social problems in recent years” with child abuse reports increasing 40 fold in the last 20 years. In 1990, over 1000 cases were reported compared to over 44,000 in 2009*.
A whitepaper released in 2006 reveals physical cruelty was the most common form of abuse (44.5 per cent of cases) while 3.1 per cent of cases were sexual abuse.
In comparison to countries like the US, these figures are low. Although Japan’s population is roughly half of the United States, in 2007, 37 children were killed by their parents, compared to almost 1500 in America.
But what makes the numbers important is that despite Japan’s very strict and conservative legal system, very little has been done for child protection.
In 2006 the government introduced a 10-year plan to improve child-rearing and provide parental support. 1700 community daytime childcare centres were opened up across the country and each prefecture received least one child-guidance centre.
These facilities are designed to help parents socialise and create a support network as well as give third parties an opportunity to look out for signs of domestic abuse.
But these centres, run by social workers, have no power behind them to take the child into protective custody, nor are they staffed by professionals able to gather legally binding evidence. In Japan there are only around 100 lawyers specialised in child protection.
Japan is generally a safe country with a very low crime rate, thanks to its harsh conviction rate of 99.7 per cent. But, as cases like these two reveal, child abuse is something that, like many of Japan’s social issues, is still swept under the rug.
*This sharp increase is most probably due to more victims coming forward, however many academics and welfare workers say it’s the tip of the iceberg as some forms of physical violence are not widely considered “abuse”.