Child abuse a worsening epidemic in Japan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2005, 12:00am

Etsunaga Inoue's daughter is two weeks old and in critical condition at a hospital with internal injuries. She was taken to the hospital by her father, a 37-year-old decorator, who was arrested after staff concluded her injuries were the result of being kicked and punched.

Police in the town of Maebashi in central Japan believe Mr Inoue assaulted his daughter because she cried at night.

The same day, in neighbouring Saitama prefecture, a 44-year-old man dug a hole in the garden of the family home and buried his stepdaughter up to her neck. The girl, aged nine, was also slapped around the face and kicked.

The man, who has not been named, told police he was disciplining the girl because she would not do her homework and because she did not get out of bed on time.

Though a nation that has traditionally revered its children, Japan is facing an epidemic of abuse cases that experts warn is likely to get worse rather than better.

'There has clearly been an increase in incidents of physical, psychological and sexual abuse of children, as well as simple neglect,' says Jun Saimura, of the Child and Family Research Institute.

'There is a wide range of reasons for the rising number of abuse cases, but one of the main ones is increasing urbanisation and the collapse of the nuclear family,' says Mr Saimura.

'Grandparents no longer live with their children and grandchildren, so people are more isolated than ever before.

'No one is teaching new parents how to behave and they have no confidence in their own abilities to raise children,' he says.

Add the economic and employment problems of the past decade, plus the stresses of a society that is caught between the deeply traditional and the ultramodern, and the recipe is one for disaster, believes Mr Saimura.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, cases referred to child consultation centres leaped 25 per cent in 2004, with staff dealing with 32,979 reports of abuse.

The system was introduced in 1990, with a mere 1,101 cases handled in the initial year.