wednesday, 19 june of 2019

Law

Japan bans parents from physically punishing children, but offenders face no penalties

The Diet enacted Wednesday a revised law banning parents and other guardians from physically punishing children, following several fatal cases of abuse dealt out in the name of discipline.

Another law was also amended to strengthen the ability of child welfare centers to intervene in abuse cases by separating staff members in charge of taking children into protective custody from those dealing with their guardians.

Though there are no penalties for offenders, the revised abuse prevention law states that parents, foster parents and heads of child welfare centers are banned from physically punishing children while attempting to discipline them.

“The state has declared that violence is not allowed for discipline,” said Kazuhiko Abe, professor of child welfare at Seinan Gakuin University. But he pointed to the need to educate parents on how to discipline children without resorting to physical punishment.

“The state needs to set aside a budget to implement measures” in order for the revised laws to be effective, Abe said.

Most of the contents of the revised laws will go into effect next April. Calls for drastic measures have intensified following a number of deaths of children at their homes, with the responses of child welfare centers being criticized in recent cases.

In March last year, 5-year-old Yua Funato died in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward having made desperate pleas for her parents to “forgive” her and stop mistreating her. In January this year, 10-year-old Mia Kurihara died in Chiba Prefecture due to suspected physical abuse by her father, which her mother allegedly failed to stop.

Earlier this month, 2-year-old Kotori Ikeda, of Sapporo, was found dead and her mother and her boyfriend were arrested on suspicion of assault.

The suspected abuse of the girl occurred despite a child welfare official interviewing her mother last year following a tipoff and a police officer meeting with the mother and the girl in mid-May, according to investigative sources.

The revised laws oblige schools, local education boards and officials of child welfare centers to keep case information confidential, after a local board of education in Chiba was criticized for informing the father of Mia about a questionnaire in which the child reported being abused by him.

Under the revised laws, local child consultation centers and related entities are urged to swiftly share information so that support can be seamlessly provided even if a child moves to a different area. Coordination with centers dealing with domestic violence is also mandated.

Prefectural governments and child welfare centers are also urged to counsel parents with a history of child abuse, using medical and psychological expertise, to prevent abuse from happening again.

As for a civil code provision on the parental right to discipline children, the legislation calls for a review within two years after the revised laws enter into force.

At a meeting on Thursday, Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita is expected to ask the Legislative Council, an advisory panel at the ministry, to start examining the matter.

(Published by The Japan Times, June 19, 2019)
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