Kenji Nohara, the director of Kobokan, a Christian community centre in Tokyo's Sumida Ward, has seen a new pattern of Japanese children in need. Decades ago, children in foster care were war orphans or children of poor families. 'Today, they come to us not for financial reasons; most of the children at our home are victims of child abuse,' he said. Kobokan's home for needy children is one of 550 such institutions in Japan, which care for 37,000 children. More than half the children in these homes were abused - physically, emotionally or sexually, according to a recent survey. Japan passed a law against child abuse three years ago, and it has helped to clarify the horrifying reality. In the year to March 2001, 17,275 cases were reported to child welfare centres and police, up 17.3 per cent from the year before. Ten years earlier, only 1,101 such cases were reported. About half of the 2000-2001 cases involved physical abuse, which caused the deaths of 61 children. That was followed by neglect (35.6 per cent), psychological abuse (10 per cent) and sexual abuse (4.3 per cent). More than half the known abusers were young mothers, and half the victims were infants and preschoolers. Many childcare specialists agree that a large proportion of young Japanese mothers know little about rearing children. They are at home alone with a baby with nobody to turn to for help, while their husbands work long hours. Japan tends to blame mothers for all the flaws of contemporary children. A psychologist once called such problems 'mother-caused diseases'. But fathers are implicated, too. This month a 22-year-old father was arrested in Kyoto for beating his one-year-old son, who suffered incurable brain injuries. Another Kyoto father was arrested after a nursery teacher reported a child's convulsions and vomiting, as a result of the father's beatings. In Chiba, a city near Tokyo, a 35-year-old man 'disciplined' his five-year-old daughter by repeatedly hitting her head until she died. The new law is undergoing a statutory review, but many people feel it needs a more fundamental overhaul. While it authorises protective custody for abused children, action is often too late. Co-ordination is ineffectual between childcare guidance centres, nurseries, schools and police. A group called the National Network Calling for Revisions of the Anti-Child-Abuse Law is proposing stronger legislative measures to prevent abuse. Lawmaker Kayoko Shimizu, who heads a child-abuse prevention committee of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has promised effective revisions will be submitted to parliament next year. 'We have to make sure that all children can live safely and in comfort,' she said. That goal should be pursued quickly, before it is too late for another child.