Photo/IllutrationFlowers and candy are laid in front of the Noda, Chiba Prefecture, home of Mia Kurihara, the 10-year-old girl found dead in the bathroom in late January. (Shino Matsuyama)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The government, responding to growing interest in the death of a 10-year-old girl who was apparently terrorized by her father, called on child consultation centers and schools nationwide to immediately examine all suspected cases of child abuse.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chaired a meeting of Cabinet ministers involved in the issue on Feb. 8 to issue the directive. The meeting also approved a new set of rules in handling child abuse cases.

Many of the changes were in direct response to some of the inadequacies in the case of Mia Kurihara, a fourth-grader in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, who was found dead in late January in the bathroom of her home. Her parents have been arrested on suspicion of inflicting bodily harm.

In July 2018, the government approved emergency measures to deal with child abuse following the heavily publicized case of a 5-year-old girl who died in Tokyo's Meguro Ward and was found to have kept a notebook promising to behave better and begging her parents to love her.

One of the measures approved at that time was to conduct a search of the residence where a suspected child abuse case occurred if no confirmation can be made of the child's safety within 48 hours after a child abuse report has been submitted.

At the Feb. 8 meeting, Cabinet ministers confirmed the need to have all relevant entities thoroughly implement and strengthen the measures approved in 2018.

Child consultation centers and elementary and junior high schools will be asked to confirm within a month's time the safety of all children suspected of being possible victims of abuse.

If parents or guardians refuse to allow center or school officials to visit the home and meet with the child, those officials can immediately take the child into protective custody and conduct a search of the home in the belief that denial signals a high risk of abuse.

The latest government order will mean that child consultation centers will likely have to confirm the safety of tens of thousands of children.

According to preliminary statistics compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, about 134,000 cases in fiscal 2017 concerned consultations over possible child abuse.

There are also 30,000 or so cases annually in which child consultation centers begin observing a child's home life after a new report of abuse comes in.

One problem that emerged in the handling of Mia's case was the city board of education giving her father a copy of the questionnaire she filled out for the elementary school in which she wrote she had been physically abused.

The Feb. 8 ministers meeting decided on a new set of rules in handling information related to abuse cases.

Parents will no longer be told who first reported the suspected abuse nor will they be shown any relevant documents. If parents make threatening requests or show signs of violence, all relevant entities, from child consultation centers, schools and the police, will be asked to jointly handle the situation.

Those entities will also be asked to jointly share important information, such as prolonged absences from school.

At a Feb. 8 session of the Lower House Budget Committee, Takumi Nemoto, the welfare minister, indicated that moves were afoot to bring certification for child welfare counselors under central government jurisdiction rather than that handled at local government level.

There are also plans to increase the number of such counselors.

Initial plans called for raising the number of counselors by 2,020 between fiscal 2019 and 2022. Under the new plan, 1,070 counselors will be added in fiscal 2019 alone.