No review for half of Japanese fatal child abuse cases

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Local governments reviewed only about half of the 255 cases of fatal child abuse detected by prefectural governments and cities, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Local governments reviewed only about 50 per cent of the 255 cases of fatal child abuse detected by prefectural governments and ordinance-designated cities across the country from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2015, a Yomiuri Shimbun investigation has found.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has requested that the 69 local authorities in which there is a child consultation center review all fatal abuse cases, but a Yomiuri survey revealed such procedures are being held back by staff shortages and difficulties in getting police and other relevant organisations to share information. The ministry plans to compile guidelines indicating the process for conducting such a review and other details so such checks will be conducted more thoroughly.

The Child Abuse Prevention Law stipulates that the central and local governments should conduct an analysis of cases in which a child suffered serious abuse. In 2011, the ministry notified local governments that all fatal abuse cases should be reviewed. In June and July this year, The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a questionnaire survey of the 69 local governments to gauge how often case reviews were conducted after receiving this notification from the ministry. All 69 local governments responded to the survey.

 In the four years through fiscal 2015, local governments were aware of 255 cases of fatal abuse, including murder-suicide. A total of 291 people died in these cases. According to the Yomiuri survey, reviews were conducted in 130 cases (in which a total of 147 people died), or just 51 per cent.

 Of the 56 local governments that said a fatal abuse case or cases had occurred in the area under their jurisdiction, 35 — more than 60 per cent — said some cases went unreviewed. The most common reasons given for this were: “There was no government involvement [such as consultations about abuse] until the abuse was revealed” (26 local governments) and “We could not get information from the police, hospitals and other relevant entities” (seven local governments). Respondents were allowed to provide multiple answers to this question.

Some disparities were evident in the responses from local governments. The Kanagawa, Nagano and Oita prefectural governments and others conducted case reviews by getting information from medical facilities and other sources, even in cases when there had been no government involvement until the abuse was revealed.

When asked to suggest policies the central government could introduce to increase the proportion of cases reviewed, 36 local governments said, “Create systems to obtain information from police and others,” and 32 said, “Secure manpower, budgets for conducting case reviews.” Local governments could also give multiple answers to this question.

The findings of case reviews conducted by local governments were reflected in strengthened systems and revised manuals for child consultation centers to prevent further instances of abuse. However, in 2012, a 2-year-old boy died after being abused in Shizuoka Prefecture, but the local government did not examine the case. In 2014, an 8-month-old girl in the same family was abused and died, illustrating the harmful effect of not reviewing fatal abuse cases.

The ministry aims to have all fatal cases go through a review. It is working to introduce guidelines that explain how to analyse such cases and concrete methods for gathering information.

“The proportion of cases being reviewed, just 50 per cent, is too low,” said Makiko Okuyama, a senior official of the National Center for Child Health and Development, and a representative of the ministry study group compiling guidelines on examinations into fatal child abuse cases. “To ensure these children did not die in vain, it is important that local governments seriously review these cases, including finding out why they could not get involved sooner. In addition to compiling guidelines, they should undergo training from experts who conduct such case reviews.”


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