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Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010


A needless tragedy

After receiving a complaint about a foul smell emanating from an apartment in Nishi Ward, Osaka, on July 30, the police went into the apartment and found the bodies of a 3-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy. The 23-year-old mother of both children has been arrested. It is suspected that she left the studio apartment in late June, abandoning them.

This case leaves many questions unanswered. Married in December 2006, she for sometime blogged about the joy of having and raising children. Divorced in May 2009, she started working in the sex industry in January 2010. She told the police that around that time she came to hate taking care of her children.

But she apparently did not ask for advice or help from anybody. When she placed her last phone call to her parents in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, in late April, she did not give the impression that she was having difficulties, and did not even tell them her address.

In early July, however, she phoned her former husband and complained that working and raising the kids were so hard. Perhaps if he had still been involved in his children's lives this tragedy could have been averted.

Neighbors heard the children crying many times and a children's welfare center received three "hotline" calls. A welfare-center worker visited the apartment five times starting in March but no one ever answered the door. The center workers did not forcibly enter the apartment because to do so, the children's welfare center first would have had to obtain the registered names of the residents and obtain court permission. In this case, the center was unable to locate the mother's family registry at the ward office, because apparently the mother had never filed one.

The police reported that when they entered the apartment they found the refrigerator empty and the air conditioner turned off. The kids were naked, having apparently taken off their clothes because of the heat. The room was full of garbage.

It is most regrettable that bureaucratic red tape made it difficult to save these children from their horrible fate. The system must be revised to allow quicker entry into a residence in cases where child abuse or neglect is suspected. One way to do so would be to allow the police to launch investigations when they receive tips about suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.

Currently cases involving child abuse and neglect are handled by children's welfare centers. The police cannot get involved unless it is suspected that a crime has taken place, or the children's welfare center requests police involvement.

In addition, cases of child abuse and neglect are on the rise nationwide. In fiscal 1990, when the government started recording statistics, children's welfare centers handled only about 1,100 consultations on child abuse. In fiscal 2008, that number reached a record 42,664. In 2009, 28 children died of abuse. In the first half of 2010, police investigated a record 181 cases of child abuse, which victimized 187 children, with 18 of them having died.

Unfortunately there are not enough children's welfare-center workers to handle all cases in an adequate manner. Local governments should make efforts to hire more children's welfare-center workers.

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