Record Child Abuse Where You'd Least Expect It

Record Child Abuse Where You'd Least Expect It

By Steven Butler

Two schoolgirls point to the Tokyo Tower in the skyline.


Because the violence-prone should stick to their own weight class.

By Steven Butler

Japan, for years, has seemed like a fantasy dream for kids. Sure, this is the nation that practically invented high-pressured schooling. But there’s also Doll’s Day for girls, and Children’s Day for flying carp-shaped kites, not to mention the Shichi-Go-San (“Seven-Five-Three”) festival, where children of the ages 7, 5 and 3 dress in traditional kimonos to visit temples. And we’d probably forgive you for suspecting that anime is Japan’s national pastime. So it’s more than a little shocking that last year, Japan saw a

34 percent increase in suspected child abuse cases,

reaching a record high of 28,923, according to the country’s National Police Agency. The number of individuals actually charged in abuse cases also hit a record — 719 cases.

Of course, some of the increase reflects better reporting of cases. The Mainichi Shimbun cites increased public concern as at least a partial explanation of the rise. Reporting of abuse cases through Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has also been on a steady rise for the past 15 years, after the nation’s Child Abuse Prevention Law started to be enforced. Professor Satoru Nishizawa, a clinical social worker who edits the Japanese Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect, says that while reporting of cases has improved, the increase is too large to be accounted for by better enforcement alone. “The increase of more complicated and pathological cases may reflect the deterioration of child care in Japanese families,” he says.

Attached to detailed statistics issued by the police are thumbnail descriptions of heartbreaking cases, such as the 5-year-old boy who was locked in a room and starved to death by his 36-year-old father. Then there’s child pornography, rape and prostitution.

Overall, verbal and psychological abuse dominated cases reported to the police, including children witnessing domestic violence, which also sharply increased by 45 percent, year over year. Physical abuse rose by 25 percent, while underfeeding grew by 32 percent and sexual abuse by 19 percent. Female victims outnumbered male victims, and girls accounted for 97 percent of sexual abuse victims, abused mostly by their fathers.

Are the Japanese worse than the rest of us? Probably not. Strictly comparable statistics are hard to come by, but reports by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found measures of child welfare in Japan to be way ahead of the United States in areas like material well-being, education, housing and environment, and health and safety. UNICEF took a measure of how the 2008 financial crisis had affected child poverty in the subsequent four years. It rose by 2.1 percent in the U.S., but fell by 2.7 percent in Japan (from an already much lower level). Meanwhile, in Greece and Iceland, child poverty shot up by 17.5 percent and 20.4 percent, respectively, although Iceland’s total child poverty rate ended up roughly the same as that of the U.S., at 31.6 percent.

Maybe those fanciful images of childhood in Japan are not so far off the mark after all.