Japan has experienced several cases recently which have put a spotlight in some of the glaring flaws in its support system for endangered kids. And sadly, a new case shows just how broken that system is.
Several days ago, the body of 10-year-old Kurihara Mia (栗原心愛) was discovered in the bathroom of her family's apartment in Nota, Chiba Prefecture. Her father, Kurihara Yuuichirou, has been arrested as the primary suspect. According to the police report, Yuuichirou pulled Mia by her hair, doused her clothed in cold water, and grabbed her roughly by the neck. When Mia passed out, Yuuichirou called for help, but by the time paramedics arrived, they found Mia dead on the scene.
Before moving to Yono, the Kurihara family lived in the city of Itoman, on the south end of Okinawa. Family services became involved with the family when relatives reported that Yuuichirou was abusing his wife. Teachers and social workers noticed marks on the girl, but after a sit-down with her and her father, didn't find enough to warrant further intervention.
(JP) Link: Fourth Grader's Death: "Her Dad Threatens Her", Okinawan Relatives Told Itoman City
Shortly after, in September 2017, the family moved to Nota. A mere two months later, Mia wrote on a survey at school that "I'm bullied by my father". The matter was referred to the city, and Mia was taken under protective custody for a month before being sent to live with other relatives. During this time, her father stormed into the school, demanding proof of their allegations. Rather than protect Mia's privacy, the school handed Yuuichirou a copy of Mia's survey.
Mia returned to her parents' home in March 2018. Neighbors called police at least once after hearing screams of "Die!" come from the apartment. Yuichirou told police that he was merely "disciplining" his eldest daughter, and never intended to hurt her.
Ten months later, Mia was dead.
(JP) Link: Fourth Grader's Death: Survey Saying "I'm Bullied By My Father" Handed to Father
小4死亡 市教委が「父からのいじめ」と回答のアンケートを容疑者へ - ライブドアニュース
This case bears disturbing similarities to a similar tragedy last year in Tokyo's Meguro Ward, where 5-year-old Funato Yua (船戸優愛) was found starved to death. Like Mia's parents, Yua's parents hopped cities when they found themselves dogged by allegations of child abuse, moving from Kanagawa Prefecture to Tokyo after abuse reports surfaced. After her death, police found a heartbreaking note Yua had written entirely in hiragana - one of the syllabic syllabaries of Japanese, which Yua's father had been forcing her to practice - pleading with her parents to "forgive" her and promising to be good.
When Yua's case broke, many commentators in Japan lashed out at the Japanese system for its patchwork child support services system, noting that the tragedy of Yua's death might had been prevented had Tokyo authorities had access to information from Kanagawa. But in Mia's case, argues Yano Emi, a professor of law at Ryuukyuu Law School in Okinawa, argues that there's a deeper flaw in the system: it yields too readily to the whims of the accused.
The school [in Itoman, Okinawa] understood in a three-person interview that there was abuse, but you can't uncover the truth of abuse at a meeting where the accused parent and the abused child are made to sit together. This may be hear to hear, but the local authorities, the child services center, and the school should all realize that they stood back and let a girl die.
In this case, the city's teachers tried to do a home visit twice, but couldn't meet because the parents put it off. Why were the parents' wishes given priority? The priority should be a child's rights. Children aren't the property of their parents.
The same point was driven home last month in Alyssa Pearl Fusek's article on Japan's foster care system, where Alyssa discussed how the emphasis on "parental rights" often trumped the well-being of the child. This is not a new development, but a longstanding issue grounded in Confucian attitudes towards children, and the ensuing cultural emphasis on filial piety. Sadly, the cases of Yua and Mia are two glaring examples of just how few rights children have.
It remains to be seen whether Professor Yano's words resonate enough to force real change in the way child services approaches cases of abused children. With two profile back-to-back deaths in the span of a year, if nothing changes now, it likely won't change for a very long time.
(JP) Link: A Talk with an Expert on the Death of the 10 Year Old in Chiba: Why Are Parents Wishes Given Priority? The Priority Should Be the Rights of a Child
千葉10歳女児死亡 識者談話 なぜ親の都合を優先？ 最も大切にすべきは子どもの人権
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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