Japan’s shame as ‘shocking’ new child abuse figures point to deadly trend

Government’s latest statistics show that children are increasingly bearing the brunt of violence within society

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2016, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2016, 11:03pm

Sakura Kuroda was just five months old when her mother held her under the water of the bath in their home in the town of Toyoake, central Japan, until she was dead. Tomomi Kuroda then put her daughter’s body in the family car and drove to her father’s home. Shortly after 5am on September 12, police received a call from Kuroda’s elderly father to say that the child was dead.

Kuroda, 39, admitted that she had killed her daughter and police quoted her as saying she was tired from caring for the baby and two older children. She added she had also planned to kill herself because she could not bear to leave her daughter alone but gave no reason for not going through with her plan.

Sakura Kuroda’s tale is tragic but barely rated a mention in the national media because the horrific abuse meted out to children is becoming such regular fare. It is all the more shocking in a nation that has traditionally prided itself on caring for all members of society – particularly the very young and the very old. But the government’s latest statistics show that children are increasingly bearing the brunt of violence within society.

A survey released by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare on October 4 showed that 27 children under 12 months old were killed by their parents in fiscal 2014, which ended on April 1. Of that total, 15 died of abuse within 24 hours of being born.

In total, 71 children under the age of 18 died at the hands of their parents during the year. The deaths of the 27 infants less than a year old represented 61 per cent of the total, the first time babies have accounted for more than 60 per cent of the total child victims of fatal abuse.

The remaining 44 children died of abuse, neglect or in murder-suicide cases, up eight from the previous year.

All 15 of the babies who died within 24 hours of being born were killed by their mothers, with 14 of the woman saying they had not wanted to become pregnant. The fathers of five of the infants could not even be identified.

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“The figures are shocking,” admitted Fujiko Yamada, founder of the Kanagawa-based Child Maltreatment Prevention Centre. “The number of children under one who are dying is particularly worrying as the percentage has risen sharply from an average of around 40 per cent in previous years.”

In August, Junko Fuchi, a 41-year-old a mother from Sue, Fukuoka Prefecture, was arrested for killing her four children, who were found dead in their home. The children’s father made the emergency call to the police.

According to the police, Fuchi made emergency calls to police asking for “advice about family issues,” but the police judged her request was “incomprehensible”.

The dead were identified as the couple’s son, Shunsuke, 10, and daughters, Miyu and Mina, both 6, and Mio, 3

Some parent-child murder-suicides have been attributed to poverty. In 2014, a single mother in Chiba Prefecture killed her teenage daughter and tried to kill herself reportedly because she could not afford to pay the rent.

The figures are shocking. The number of children under one who are dying is particularly worrying as the percentage has risen sharply
Fujiko Yamada, Child Maltreatment Prevention Centre

Yamada’s experience in dealing with the young victims of abuse also tells her that it is largely a result of the economic pressures that are being exerted on society here.

“Families with children today are relatively poor. The old structure of society from 30 years ago has largely been destroyed because the concept of a job guaranteed for life has gone. Instead, most jobs are non-contract positions with low wages, difficult conditions and very little job security.

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“That means parents are having to work harder than ever before just to get by. And that’s particularly hard on single-parent families, where typically the mother will work three or more jobs and be away from home from early in the morning until late at night. And it is that neglect of the children that we are seeing now.”

Yamada’s organisation is calling for a radical rethink of child care services in Japan, including a revamp of the system of social workers employed by local authorities.

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“Social workers tend to think that they should help the parents and keep the family together at all costs, because to take the children away would destroy the family ties,” she said.

“But leaving the children with potentially abusive parents means it is usually too late when they need to intervene to stop abuse. Too often, it means the child dies.”

Yamada champions the idea of two sorts of dedicated social workers for child cases; those who offer ongoing support to families but backed up by “intervention staff” who have the authority to step in when it becomes clear that a child is at risk.

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Despite the worrying upward trend in cases being reported, Yamada remains optimistic that Japan can rediscover its ability to nurture and love its youngsters.

“If we act right now, we can reduce the number of cases; I’m certain of that,” she said. “But we have to change the care system to make absolutely sure that more children do not die.”

Additional reporting by Kyodo