Yomiuri survey finds 69 children sexually abused at residential care facilities

At least 47 staff members committed indecent acts against 69 current or former residents of facilities for abused or neglected children over a five-year period, according to a survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The nationwide survey took place from July to December, and covered 73 local governments — all prefectural and major city governments, as well as core cities and special wards that have child guidance centers. The Yomiuri Shimbun asked whether employees at protective facilities for children in their jurisdictions had committed indecent acts against children under 18 who were residents or former residents of such facilities from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2020.

The Aomori prefectural government and the Nagoya city government did not provide the number of people who had been punished or the number of victims, saying they do not release such information.

Of the entities surveyed, 22 local governments said there had been indecent acts at protective facilities under their jurisdiction. The survey found that 47 workers were believed to have committed indecent acts against 69 children.

Some of the children may have been targeted multiple times, and therefore been counted more than once.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry does not release figures related to sexual abuse cases at protective facilities for children.

At a facility in the Kyushu region, a male child guidance worker in his 40s was found to have forced four boys aged 10 to 15 to perform indecent acts. He committed these crimes from 2016 to 2019 when he worked at the facility and even after he was dismissed as a punishment.

The man was sentenced to eight years in prison for indecent assault and abusing his position of taking care of children who trusted him.

Under the Child Welfare Law, a protective facility houses and cares for children ages 2 to 17 who cannot receive proper care in their family environment.

As of the end of March 2020, about 24,500 children lived at 612 protective facilities, and about 19,200 staff members worked there, according to the ministry. The facilities are mostly operated by social welfare corporations and staffed by certified childcare workers and child guidance workers who graduated from training schools.

More than 10% of children are said to remain in the facilities for at least 10 years.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has surveyed boards of education and local governments across the country about issues related to indecent acts against children. A total of 1,030 teachers at public elementary, junior high and high schools and other institutions were disciplined for such actions between fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2019, and 945 children were victimized, according to the surveys.

At after-school facilities and after-school day-care facilities for children with disabilities, 44 employees were found to have committed indecent acts from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2020, preying on 69 children.

The Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the justice minister, is considering such measures as criminalizing sexual acts in which the perpetrator abuses their position or relationship with victims.

“To create a home-like environment, facilities for children are becoming smaller in scale. In addition, the shortage of staff can easily create one-on-one situations [involving children and workers],” said Tetsuro Tsuzaki, a former director of the Osaka City child guidance center who now heads the Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse & Neglect.

“Children [at such facilities] tend to feel close to the staff because of the environment they’re raised in. To prevent abuse, it’s necessary to provide training that envisions specific situations, and have a system to check [employees’] criminal records for indecent acts against children.”