Recent child abuse cases in Japan 'just the tip of the iceberg', say experts

Ignorance, poverty and decline of the nuclear family blamed for rise in violence against children, the true extent of which is unknown

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 11:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 February, 2014, 1:07am

Police in Tokyo have arrested a man who poured boiling water on the face of his infant daughter - the latest incident of violence against children shocking a society that has always been proud of the way it nurtures its young people.

Tetsuya Sato, 23, was previously arrested in May last year for assaulting his wife and received a suspended sentence.

When his daughter was admitted to a hospital near their home in the Machida suburb of western Tokyo, police were quoted as saying that she had extensive bruising and scarring across her body.

Sato's arrest comes just days after Shogo Yamashita was arrested at his home in Tokushima prefecture, southern Japan, after police discovered he had restrained his three-year-old son with a dog lead tied to a window frame.

And also this month, the director of an IT company was arrested in Tokyo after stamping on the feet of a boy who was reading in a book store. Four similar incidents were reported to police.

Child advocacy groups have been horrified by an apparent upsurge in incidents involving youngsters and fear the true scale of the problem remains hidden.

"From what we can see, the problem is definitely becoming bigger," said Tsuneo Yamamoto, head of the Family Research Division of the Japanese Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

"And we fear that we are not reaching most of the children that are being abused," he added. "We really do not know how big this problem is."

The latest official statistics, from Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare for the 12 months to March last year show a record 66,807 child abuse cases were reported to the authorities.

A study carried out by the ministry into the causes of the increase suggested there has been a parallel rise in unwanted pregnancies and that children born to reluctant parents were more at risk.

Yamamoto said there were numerous reasons for the mistreatment of children, but most could be traced back to simple economics.

"The single biggest problem is financial problems in young families," he said.

Yamamoto added that lots of new parents "simply don't know how to rear children".

He said the traditional "nuclear family" of several generations living under the same roof - with grandparents on hand to offer advice and support to new parents - was now a rarity in Japanese society.

The government has announced initiatives to encourage people to have more children and halt Japan's population decline, but critics say new parents need longer-term education and support to ensure children are raised healthily and safely.