07/04/2018, 12.14
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The scourge of child abuse explodes in Japan

On July 2, an NGO presented a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to demand the government fight the increase in cases. The problem of violence exploded after the death of a five-year-old girl. In the fiscal year 2016 more than 100 thousand cases were reported: one hundredfold compared to 1990. Single-parent families, the poorest in all OECD countries, are increasing. Children's centers are under-staffed.

Tokyo (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Children who are starved, subjected to physical or verbal violence, aggression and negligence: This is the worrying reality rocking Japanese society in recent months, and which has propelled an NGO to present a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to the Ministry of Health and Welfare on 2 July.

The director of the non-profit association Florence, Hiroki Komazaki, has handed over the signatures calling for greater contact between the police and social services, and that measures are taken to prevent child abuse.

The problem of violence against minors in the Land of the Rising Sun has filled Japanese media since  the discovery of the small body of five year old Yua Funato in March (see photo 2). The girl died of pneumonia and malnutrition, after writing in her notebook "please forgive me". Yua was subjected to a long series of ill-treatment: her mother forced her to wake up every morning at 4 to practice writing and punished her when she was wrong, forcing her to sit for hours outside the house, on the concrete veranda of their apartment. Yua weighed eight kilos less than the children her age, and her digestive tract was full of vomit.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Yua's treatment is anything but an isolated incident. In the first half of 2017, the cases of child abuse reported to the authorities reached the figure of 30,262. Between April 2015 and March 2016 (fiscal year 2016), 103,260 episodes were recorded: a hundredfold of those in 1990, when 1,101 were reported.

In part, the increase can be explained in changing social attitudes, which no longer see abuse as an exclusive private family matter. However, this is not sufficient to explain such a dizzying increase in the cases reported. There are also social reasons, including: the increase in marriages following pregnancies (often destined to a short duration), a partial increase in teenage mothers, a general increase in divorces and single-parent families (in which there is only the mother) and the high rate of poverty among these households. Between 1992 and 2016, the number of families with single mothers rose by 50%. Child poverty in single-parent families is the highest in the OECD countries: 56% against 32% of the US.

Another problem is the lack of staff in childcare centers. In 2016, the government announced that it would increase the number of "one for every 70 thousand" residents to "one in every 40 thousand". A few months before the deadline, scheduled for the end of March 2019, the target has not yet been reached.

The main form of abuse highlighted by the consultants is psychological abuse, followed by physical abuse, negligence and sexual violence. Violent parents usually refer or behave disproportionately towards children, addressing their statements as "you shouldn’t have been born into the world, " or "We would have been a happy family if it were not for you". This kind of mistreatment is difficult to identify, and it is part of an already complex social context, due to the pressure and bullying that afflict young Japanese people.

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