Japan on Tuesday approved a plan to include physical punishments in a revised child abuse prevention law that will be put into force in April next year, as child abuse cases in the nation rise. The government is aiming to pass a bill to revise child abuse prevention legislations during the ongoing parliamentary session and put most of the amended laws into force in April next year. The current child abuse prevention law stipulates that assault and lewd acts constitute abuse. But when it comes to disciplining children, it only says people “shall give due consideration to appropriate exercise” of parental authority. Under the envisioned changes, parents, foster parents and welfare workers would be prohibited from physically punishing children as a means of discipline. There will be no penalties for offenders, however. “It is the responsibility of all adults to protect the lives of children. We are going to powerfully and swiftly work (to take steps to prevent child abuse),” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a gathering prior to endorsing the bill at a Cabinet meeting. The current child abuse prevention law stipulates that assault and lewd acts constitute abuse. But when it comes to disciplining children, it only says people “shall give due consideration to appropriate exercise” of parental authority. Record 37,000 children suspected of being abused in Japan in first half of 2018 The planned amendment would also seek to strengthen the ability of child welfare centres to “intervene” in abuse cases by separating staff members in charge of taking children into protective custody from those dealing with their guardians. Efforts to tackle child abuse through legal changes gathered momentum following the death in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward last March of Yua Funato, 5, who left desperate pleas for her parents to “forgive” her and stop mistreating her. In another case, 10-year-old Mia Kurihara was found dead at her home in Chiba Prefecture due to suspected physical abuse by her father Yuichiro, 41, which her mother Nagisa allegedly failed to stop. Japanese girl found dead in home toilet after suspected abuse pleaded teachers for help in 2017 In both cases, the parents, who were later arrested, did not recognise their behaviour amounted to abuse. The child welfare centres temporarily put the children into protective custody, but failed to protect their lives in the face of the parents’ rejection of their efforts to intervene. The law revisions would also introduce confidentiality obligations to schools, education boards and child welfare centres after a copy of a note Mia wrote to alert her school about the abuse was passed on to her father by a local education board. The revelation that she had made such a plea is thought to have aggravated the father’s violence. The revisions also call for enhancing liaison with domestic violence consultation centres, as mothers are often subjected to violence in child abuse cases, and supporting the establishment of more child consultation centres in Tokyo’s 23 wards and major cities in the five years after the revised laws take effect. Many child porn victims tricked into sending nude selfies: Japan police While the planned changes are welcomed by many experts as a first step forward in the fight against child abuse, some have also worried the abuses may shift from physical to psychological. “There is not only an increase in the number of cases of physical abuse but also cases in which parents drive children to the edge psychologically,” said Takayuki Suzuki, Toyo University professor on child welfare studies who used to work at a child consultation centre. Is Japan a haven for parents who kidnap their own children? “We have to prevent abuses from becoming insidious and invisible on the surface,” Suzuki said, adding it is also crucial to create a community network of people watching over and helping each other so families do not get isolated. In 2016, a seven-year-old boy who was ordered out of the car for misbehaving during a family hiking trip wandered into a forest and got lost, sparking a frantic search for the child. Yamato Tanooka, survived on his own for six days in a forest in northern Japan where bears freely roamed. Japanese reacted with outrage at the actions of the parents, who apologised for the incident.