The Yomiuri ShimbunWhy was the long-term absence of a child at risk of being abused overlooked? A lack of consideration has invited a tragedy.
Mia Kurihara, a fourth-grade elementary school student in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, died and her parents were arrested on suspicion of inflicting bodily harm. It is said that cold water was poured over her in a shower and her neck was held in an iron grip between two hands. There is nothing for it but to say that it is a pitiful incident.
Mia answered that she suffered violence from her father in a questionnaire about bullying conducted in November 2017 by a Noda municipal elementary school she then attended, and was temporarily put into protective custody by the Kashiwa child consultation center run by the prefectural government.
As Mia’s injuries were minor and cooperation had been obtained from a relative, she began to live at the relative’s house 1½ months later. She soon became familiar with a new school to which her father transferred her, and the child consultation center allowed her to return to his house about two months later.
What is especially problematic about the Noda municipal board of education’s handling of the issue was that it gave the father a copy of her reply to the questionnaire in January 2018. The girl, who had believed the school’s promise to keep the questionnaire secret, asked the school for help, saying, “I am suffering violence from my father.”
The board of education’s betrayal of the promise is outrageous. The board said that it was scared by an intimidating request from the father. It prioritized calming the situation, but exposed Mia to danger.
Even though there has been a court ruling that ordered the result of a bullying survey be disclosed to a victim’s side, protecting respondents is the premise. Undue requests made of an administrative body should be entrusted to police or other entities. There are not a few charges applicable to such deeds, including refusal to leave and coercion.
Learn lessons from tragedy
The school Mia transferred to paid attention to whether she had bruises on her body during physical examinations. She herself was cheerful and was elected as a class representative. Her parents were peaceful when they met with school officials in December last year.
There are not a few cases in which perpetrators of abuse suddenly change their temperate attitudes.
The sign that there was an abnormal situation was her absence from school starting on Jan. 7. The father told the school that they were at the girl’s mother’s house in Okinawa Prefecture and would take some time off until February. The school took a wait-and-see attitude because she had also been absent from school for about 10 days immediately after the summer holidays. It can be said that this very judgment has led to an irredeemable result.
In addition to the school, neither the Noda municipal government’s section for dealing with children and home affairs nor the child consultation center took any concrete measures. The incident took place on Jan. 24. Couldn’t any of the three entities have asked the Okinawa prefectural government to confirm her family’s presence in the prefecture or directly visit the father’s house? Didn’t each relevant entity leave everything to the others?
After a 5-year-old girl died in an abuse case in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, last year, the central government compiled emergency measures, including making forced on-site inspections obligatory. The long-term absence of a child who needed to be put into protective custody was an issue of highly urgent priority, and it was necessary to take prompt action. That is the biggest lesson learned from this incident.
The child consultation center dealt with 1,742 abuse cases in fiscal 2017, the highest among such centers in the prefecture. There is a limit to how much staff can be increased at these centers. Adults surrounding children should be sensitive to their SOS signals.