Establish system that prevents tragedies from recurring

There have been many deaths of abused children who were not put into protective custody due to opposition from their parents. A system to quickly protect children must be developed as soon as possible.

A revision to the Child Welfare Law has been enacted that includes the introduction of a judicial review system that would allow a court to determine the appropriateness of separating children from their parents as an emergency measure when abuse is suspected.

Even if a parent refuses to comply, child consultation centers can request a “warrant for temporary protection” from the court, and the court will examine whether or not the child should be put into protection.

Under the existing system, temporary protective custody can be administered at the discretion of child consultation centers. However, in a fatal abuse case in 2019 in the city of Noda, Chiba Prefecture, when a child consultation center took temporary custody of a girl, her father strongly objected and claimed that it was a kidnapping. When the temporary custody ended, the father’s abuse of his daughter escalated.

On the other hand, in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, the municipal government was forced to apologize when it became apparent that an infant who had been placed in protective custody for over a year had not been a victim of abuse.

Temporary protective custody can easily lead to problems with parents, and there are cases in which child consultation centers hesitate to provide protection. It is hoped that the involvement of a court, from its neutral position, and its “endorsement” will lead to smoother protection procedures.

The new system will take effect within three years. Going forward, relevant parties will work out the specific operation procedures of the system. Discussions should proceed with the protection of children’s lives as the top priority.

It is important that judges do not differ in their judgment of whether or not temporary protective custody is necessary. What constitutes abuse should be established in advance with input from schools, hospitals and other institutions that have contact with children and are more likely to detect signs of abuse when things are amiss.

When requesting a warrant for temporary protective custody, a child consultation center will be required to submit documents to the court proving the “possibility of abuse.” The hurdles for temporary protection should not be too high, and protection should not be delayed because of a demand for decisive evidence.

In fiscal 2020, there were a record 200,000 cases of child abuse and about 48,000 cases of temporary protective custody. Overloaded child consultation centers will be faced with the additional burden of preparing documents to be submitted to courts.

The government needs to make an effort to increase the number of staff at child consultation centers and assign personnel with expertise in legal matters to ease their workload.

The revised law also makes it mandatory to ask children for their opinion before decisions on temporary custody are made.

To protect their parents, children may not tell the truth. It will be necessary for experts to determine ways to elicit the truth from children while taking care not to hurt their feelings.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 14, 2022)