65 Cases of Child Abuse Related to Religion Identified in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Child consultation centers identified 65 cases of child abuse related to religious faith from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2022, a recent survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun has discovered.

Problems regarding the children of religious followers, or shukyo nisei (second-generation followers), surfaced following the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July last year. The cases identified by child consultation centers may only be the tip of the iceberg — there has been at least one private-sector survey in which about 1,000 people said they were forced to engage in religious activities during childhood.

One expert stressed the need to build a framework to help people around such children be aware when something unusual is happening.

The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted the survey in May and June on 78 local governments that have child consultation centers, including those of prefectures, ordinance-designated cities and special areas. It tallied the reports and consultations that these centers received about abuse connected to religious faith, based on such elements as date, number and the specifics of the cases.

From fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2020, child consultation centers received two to seven such reports and consultations annually. This figure jumped to 25 in fiscal 2021 and 24 in fiscal 2022.

Key reasons for the increase probably include the fact that in fiscal 2021, previously unknown information about second-generation followers was featured on TV, and in fiscal 2022, some of them appealed to authorities for help in the wake of the Abe killing.

Neglect, such as discouraging children from going to school, was most common, at 42 cases. This was followed by psychological abuse, such as forcing religious practice on children, at 22 cases, and physical abuse such as beating, with four cases. Survey respondents were allowed to give multiple answers.

Among the 78 local governments, 28 said they received reports or consultations on abuse. The majority of the surveyed governments, at 42, said they received no such reports.

Six municipalities — Tokyo; Tochigi and Miyazaki prefectures; and the cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya — answered “unknown,” saying it was impossible to identify cases related to religion out of all the reports and consultations they received.

The Osaka prefectural government said there were no such cases in fiscal 2022, while the number was unknown from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2021. The prefecture’s Sakai municipal government opted to keep its answers confidential.

Hard for children to speak out

The social survey support organization Chiki Lab conducted an online survey on second-, third- and later-generation followers in September last year. Of the 1,131 respondents, about 1,000 people, or 89%, said they were forced by their families to take part in religious events and activities.

One woman in her 30s who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture was a second-generation follower of a religious organization. As a child, she was forced to accompany her mother when she made house-to-house visits as part of missionary activities. The woman developed heatstroke, as she was not allowed to drink water during the visits.

“My mother abused me, but I couldn’t recognize that back then,” the woman said.

In December 2022, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry drew up guidelines for dealing with abuse related to religion. The guidelines give specific examples of abuse, such as imposing worship for long hours, and also asks child consultation centers and other entities to provide abused children with temporary shelter and other care in cases of abuse.

“Children suffering from abuse find it difficult to speak out, so it’s important for the adults around them to detect signs of abuse,” said Kazuaki Murata, an associate professor of Aichi Prefectural University specializing in child and family welfare. “The system for watching over children must be strengthened. For example, schools should have a full-time school social worker whose job is to contact and coordinate with child consultation centers.”