Save young people from the horrors of abuse

It is unacceptable for parents to threaten their children by telling them things like “You’ll go to hell if you oppose the doctrine,” or to call their friends “Satan” and forbid their children to interact with them. Saving abused children is an urgent task.

The Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry has compiled its first guidelines to prevent child abuse based on religious beliefs.

The ministry was spurred to make this move after children of members of religious groups such as the Unification Church, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, asked the government in October to implement relief measures. The children revealed that they had been forced to participate in religious activities since their childhood, and that they had suffered restrictions on their school life and employment, among other issues.

To create the guidelines, the ministry conducted a series of interviews mainly with such children. It learned of incidents that occurred at the homes of religious followers and determined whether such cases constituted abuse.

It is laudable that the ministry listened to the complaints of the people concerned. To prevent abuse, the central government must ensure that local governments and relevant organizations nationwide are thoroughly aware of the situation.

The guidelines state that engaging in such acts as forcing children to participate in religious activities until late at night or verbally provoking their fears constitutes psychological abuse.

Acts by parents not safeguarding their children’s upbringing and education as a result of spending all their money on religious activities, or not allowing their children to receive blood transfusions and other medical treatment deemed necessary by doctors is considered child neglect.

The situation in which children are abused as a result of unreasonable doctrines cannot be overlooked. The central government needs to accept its grave responsibility for leaving this issue unresolved.

The guidelines call for child consultation centers to ensure the safety of children by implementing such steps as taking them into temporary custody if abuse is confirmed. If a religious group or other organization forces family members to act based on its doctrine, the guidelines call for referring the matter to police to determine whether to file a complaint.

Some children of religious followers said that even though they asked child consultation centers and police for help, these entities did not do anything, saying the children’s problems were religious matters.

Administrative entities were likely hesitant to intervene out of concern for freedom of religion as stipulated by the Constitution. From now on, abuse must not be allowed to go unnoticed.

However, there have been concerns that intervention by child consultation centers might lead parents and religious groups to overreact, and abuse could thereby escalate. Local governments, police and other relevant entities should share information and protect children without hesitation when necessary.

When handling the difficult task of rescuing the children of religious groups’ followers, concerns remain over the current readiness of child consultation centers nationwide. The central government plans to increase the number of professional child welfare personnel by about 1,000 by the end of fiscal 2024. It is hoped that this plan will be realized steadily.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 29, 2022)