November is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Campaign Month in Japan, and at TELL we would like to highlight the urgent need for increased support for vulnerable children and families. While child maltreatment existed in Japan long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the conditions COVID-19 has created have increased the stressors and vulnerabilities that caregivers’ are experiencing, at a time when the protective services we normally rely on have been weakened, and families have reduced social support and connections.
According to police records, 2,172 youths were subjected to abuse last year, with 106,991 cases of suspected abuse reported to the child guidance centers. This figure surpassed 100,000 for the first time since records began in 2004, up 8,769 from the previous year. The period of March-May, when many schools were closed, saw the biggest increase in reports to welfare centers. Additionally, 295 sexual abuse cases were reported to the child consultation centers, the highest on record and up 11.7% from last year. Other organizations received 518 requests for pregnancy support from youths under 18 during March-May stating unwanted sexual intercourse as the reason for termination and support. About 50 children, roughly one per week, die from abuse each year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly dramatically affected Japanese society and countries worldwide. Many parents and caregivers have faced financial insecurity, alterations to their routine, and the juggling of multiple responsibilities including work, full-time childcare, and care for family members who may be shielding or ill. Research from previous disasters tells us that when adequate support is not available, such tensions may lead to mental and emotional health issues and the use of negative coping strategies. There is ample evidence linking both these conditions to child maltreatment. Moreover, 2020 saw the highest level of youth suicides on record, including a significant uptick in adolescent females dying by suicide.
A recent Japanese study of 5344 parents of children aged 0-17 years examined the prevalence of abusive parenting behavior during the pandemic and its links with physical, psychological, and social factors and positive parenting behavior. The study found positive parenting behaviors, that involved empathy and allowed children to express their feelings, and maintain a hopeful attitude, were associated with lower risks of abusive behaviors. The study also found that high levels of psychological distress in parents, domestic abuse, changes in children’s lives, particularly longer screen time (i.e., 6 h or more per day), and non-essential absences of parents were associated with increased risks of abusive behavior. In addition, the study found that parents of children with special needs were at greater risk of distress, and the risk of physical abuse was greater.
This study, in keeping with the research from previous disasters, highlights the importance of providing additional resources and support to vulnerable caregivers and youths. Parent education and easy access to resources and support services is critical. Special attention should be given to at-risk groups such as single parents, those in abusive relationships or those with special needs children along with resources and support for at-risk young people.
As we observe Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Campaign Month, we ask for your support to stop child abuse before it begins. In Japan, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and all forms of social workers are required to report suspected or confirmed cases of child abuse. However, anyone can report suspected child abuse or neglect. Reporting abuse or neglect can protect a child and get help for a family, and it may even save a child’s life. While many of the services are Japanese only, you may know someone who can help you report the case or use an interpreter. If you suspect that a child may be being abused or neglected, or if you are a child who is being mistreated, 189 is the main number for the child guidance center or you can check this link and call the center in your prefecture. If you are worried about cyberbullying or other issues that may affect a child these other resources may help:
Child Human Rights 110 – English language support
Childline Japan – Japanese language
TELL Lifeline – English language phone and chat support