Devise ways to protect children as number of abuse cases increases

The novel coronavirus pandemic is making it more difficult to deal with child abuse. The number of cases in which home visits are refused is noticeable, so it is necessary to devise ways to watch over children.

The number of children reported to child consultation centers by police as suspected of being abused rose 9% nationwide last year from the previous year, to reach about 107,000. It was the first time the number exceeded 100,000.

The number of cases police started investigating as criminal cases, such as those involving assaults or injuries, totaled a record high of 2,131. The figure has doubled in the past five years, indicating the seriousness of the situation.

Behind the increasing number of reports is a heightened awareness of child abuse and the fact that the police are now actively taking up such cases.

It is also argued that the increase in child abuse cases is an effect of family members staying home for a prolonged period due to the pandemic. Risk factors in households that could trigger child abuse, such as the stress caused by refraining from going out as well as economic hardship are increasing.

There is no prospect of coronavirus infections abating. The situation must continue to be carefully monitored in order to prevent such victimization from becoming more serious.

In the case of a 3-month-old girl’s death from emaciation in the town of Misato, Saitama Prefecture, last September, her parents were arrested on suspicion of abandonment as people responsible for her protection. Town officials tried to contact the parents by phone more than 30 times, but the parents refused visits, citing such concerns as infection.

A neighbor had reported hearing “loud crying.” The fact that this young life could not be saved should be taken seriously, and what was lacking in the relevant organizations should be examined.

Some local governments are taking measures to deal with the situation in which home visits are becoming more difficult. The child consultation center in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, is using the video function of the Line free communication app to monitor the situation through conversations with parents and children.

Some child consultation centers use a method in which they call parents and ask them to hand over the phone to their children, and if the safety of the child appears to be in danger, they go to see the child in person. Various methods should be used to confirm the safety of children.

There is an urgent need to strengthen the manpower of child consultation centers. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has been working since fiscal 2018 on a plan to increase the number of child welfare officers by 2,000 over a period of five years, and the ministry has said it will move the goal up by one year.

The increase in child welfare officers is welcome news, but it is worrisome that the number of inexperienced child welfare officers is rising. Half of all welfare officers have been on the job for fewer than three years.

Dealing with child abuse now increasingly requires extensive knowledge about spousal violence and poverty.

The ministry is considering the creation of a qualification of what would tentatively be called “child and family welfare specialists,” specializing in family welfare. Such personnel must be utilized to prevent child abuse from a wide range of perspectives.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 14, 2021.