Japan’s first baby hatch — an place where parents can anonymously drop off unwanted babies — opened at a hospital in Kumamoto in Kyushu in May 2007. In the month after it opened a three-year-old boy and several-month-old infants were left there. As of November 2010, 57 babies had been left at the “baby hatch” in four years. Eight-four percent were newborns.

According to the Civil Code a baby born within 300 days of a divorce is a child born to the mother and her former spouse even if the biological father was a different man. Some children were unregistered because either the former spouse refused to acknowledge the child or the mother wanted the biological father listed as the father. Unregistered children can not receive public services such as health insurance and have trouble registering for school. In 2008 the law was changed.

In March 2012, Kyodo reported: “A "baby hatch" facility for unwanted newborns at a hospital in the city of Kumamoto has been sometimes used inappropriately, with one parent leaving a child there to study abroad, a municipal panel of experts said. Another parent left a child in the baby hatch at Jikei Hospital after finding it impossible to find anywhere to leave the infant while working, according to the panel. [Source: Kyodo, March 29, 2012]

Man 'Misused Baby Hatch to Grab Inheritance'

In August 2011 the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A 49-year-old man has been charged with pocketing about 60 million yen in insurance money paid to his orphaned nephew, for whom he had been named a legal guardian prior to leaving the infant at a "baby hatch" facility in Kumamoto in 2007. The man is suspected of having embezzled the money from the boy, whose mother had died in a traffic accident. The Saitama prefectural police have sent papers on the case to prosecutors, investigative sources said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, August 10, 2011]

The man was a guardian for the infant prior to leaving the boy at the hatch, at which point the man collected insurance benefits and other money left for the boy by his mother and spent the money gambling while drifting across the nation, the man reportedly told the police. When he left the boy at the hatch, the man included a note under an assumed name, apparently in an effort to conceal his identity as the guardian, it was learned Tuesday.

According to investigators, after the mother's death, the boy was left alone, and a court appointed the man--the woman's older brother--as the boy's guardian, ordering him to look after the boy's inheritance. However, in spring 2007, the man withdrew the mother's life and accident insurance payments that had been deposited into several bank accounts opened in the boy's name. He then left the boy at the Kumamoto hatch and went missing.

Later a court dismissed the man as guardian of the boy. In 2011, the man turned himself in at a police station in Aichi Prefecture. The man told police: "I found out about the baby hatch and left the boy there. Since then, I wandered around and gambled the insurance money on motorboat races and other things hoping to earn more money. "I started feeling guilty about what I'd done after seeing people [in the Tohoku region] suffering from the Great East Japan Earthquake.” reportedly told the police.

Adoption in Japan

Adoption is frowned upon in Japan. Each year there are only around 600 official adoptions (the real number is believed to be much higher), compared to 65,000 in the United States. Many adoptions are arranged quietly by doctors to mothers who often fake they are pregnant so people will believe the child is biologically hers.

Blood relations are prized and children who are different are bullied and harassed. Many adoptions that take place are done by grandparents to dodge inheritance tax.

Single women almost never adopt. One 37-year-old career woman told the Washington Post, “I don’t know why one would what a child so much. In Japanese culture, the point is not to have children, but to have one’s own children.”

Around 25,000 children, who could be adopted, live in 527 state-run or subsidized homes. In many cases there are parents who want to provide homes for the children but can't for various legal and bureaucratic reasons, blocking efforts by blood relatives of the adopted child, and the belief that the children be better taken care of in the state-run homes.

Sham adoptions in Japan have been used by foreigners to obtain passports, pay debtors, apply for loans and scam insurance companies in fake car accident schemes.

Child Abuse and Violence in Japan

Child abuse cases are increasing in Japan according to Japan’s National Police Agency. A record 44,211 cases of child base were reported in fiscal 2009. About 60 percent of the 67 infant and children who died of abuse in fiscal 2008 were under the age of one. There were 18,804 consultations on child abuse in fiscal 2000, a 60 percent rise from the previous year and an 18-fold increase since 1990. About half the abused children were six and under and 62 percent of the abusers were mothers.

Child consultation centers across the nation handled a record 55,152 cases of child abuse in fiscal 2010, up 10,941 from the previous year, according to report by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which said the surge in cases stemmed from "increased public awareness of child abuse that resulted in more reports being made by neighbors and other concerned people." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun. July 21, 2011]

In 2010, a string of serious child abuse cases horrified the public, including the case of a little girl and her young brother who starved to death after they were left unattended in an apartment in Nishi Ward, Osaka. The ministry said the increase in cases reported in fiscal 2010 apparently reflected greater public awareness--triggered by these cases--about preventing child abuse.

In fiscal 2009, 49 children died in 47 child abuse cases. These figures were down 18 and 17, respectively, from fiscal 2008.

According to one survey one in 10 Tokyo mother beat or neglect their children. In one highly publicized case, some parents stashed their child in a coin locker at Tokyo station while they grabbed a noodle dinner.

Reasons for rising rates rise in child abuse include smaller households, high stress levels, increasing isolation from neighbors and society, and prenatal ignorance.

Extreme Cases of Child Abuse and Violence in Japan

The problem got some publicity in July 2010 after a three-year-old girl and her one-year-old brother were found dead in closet in an Osaka apartment, having died from a lack of food and water. The 23-year-old mother, who left the children unattended in the room for more than a month in scorching heat while she went to host clubs, was arrested. She told police she “got sick of feeding them and giving them baths” and “wanted time for herself.” She left her apartment in June, leaving her kids behind. She said, “I thought about a week later they might be dead” but “I didn’t feel like I should return home to save them.”

A month earlier a five-year-old Fukuoka girl died for repeated abuse that included being thrown in a washing machine with her hands and legs tied and a 14-year-old Osaka boy was set on fire with lighter fluid by his father. In December 2009, a 14-month-old girl suffocated after being confined to a box by her mother and mother’s boyfriend.

In another extreme case a six-year-old girl died after her mother and stepfather beat her with a metal lamp handle and burned her with a lighter because she was too slow in eating dinner. In other extreme cases parents punished their children by nearly drowning them or not feeding them for several days. In 2006, a woman from Osaka Prefecture was sentenced to five years in jail for using a razor to slash the testicles of her four-month-old son.

According to a survey conducted by the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, 30 children died between April 1995 and June 1996 while their parents were playing pachinko. They included a boy who fell into a water-filled ditch, and several children hit by vehicles while their parents were playing pachinko. Police brought charges of negligence against one woman who got so involved in playing pachinko on a steamy summer day that she forget about her two sons who were locked inside her car. The two boys died.

“Nobody Knows”, an award winner at Cannes Film Festival was based on a true story about four siblings who try to take care of themselves in Tokyo apartment after being abandoned by their 40-year-old mother who went to live with her lover. The real life incident took place in 1988 and received a lot of media attention after it was uncovered. The children lived on their own for 1½ years until one of the children was found dead in the mountains. The body of mother’s first child was also discovered dead. The oldest boy was blamed for death of his sister. But the siblings told another story. They said he cared for them better than their mother did and often went hungry while the other had food. The film version of the life story leaves one feeling numb at the end.

In March 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A 37-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of strangling her three children at their home in Kagoshima, police said. According to the police, Satomi Fukutomi has admitted killing her two sons, Shoya, 10, and Koki, 8, and her 4-year-old daughter Riona. Fukutomi's husband, Takuya, 39, found the children's bodies when he returned home from work. Satomi was lying on the floor and bleeding from her wrist, but her injuries are not serious, police said. Satomi was quoted as telling police that she also planned to die. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2012]

Gang-Affiliated, Drug-Using Mother Forces Daughter to Use Drugs and Sell Sex

In September 2011 the Yomiuri Shimbun reported the case of a 16-year-old Sapporo girl arrested stimulant drugs charges who was forced to work as a prostitute by her mother since she was a sixth-grader at primary school. The girl said she started taking stimulant drugs because her mother insisted she do so. The girl told police her parents divorced when she was young. Her family circumstances are complicated and she reportedly cannot explain who the father of each of her several siblings is. Her mother has been arrested in the past for abusing drugs, according to sources. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 21, 2011]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The girl was quoted as saying she prostituted herself for the first time at her mother's insistence when she was a sixth-grader, and handed the about 10,000 yen she received to her mother. After that, her mother continued to force the girl to provide sex for money, allegedly saying, "Do it because I want to buy stimulants." The girl said she has had two abortions since she was a first-year middle school student. Her mother and her mother's new husband also forced her to have tattoos put on her shoulder and breast. The girl reportedly rarely went to middle school, and her mother and people with ties to organized gangs dominated her life. “

Japanese Law Targets Abuse by Parents

In May 2011 the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, a bill was enacted that will allow courts to suspend parental rights for up to two years, rather than the indefinite term currently allowed, with the aim of better protecting children from abuse by their parents. The Civil Code currently allows family courts to suspend parental rights for an unspecified period, but the measure has rarely been implemented due to concerns about the potential impact of indefinite suspensions on parent-child relationships. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 28, 2011]

Introducing the two-year limit is intended to improve the legal system's effectiveness in protecting children from abuse. The bill to revise the Civil Code, the Child Welfare Law and other related laws was unanimously approved at a plenary session of the House of Councillors, having been passed by the House of Representatives. The revised laws will be enforced from April 2012 or later.

One child welfare official told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “This gives us more options to resolve problems.” He recalled one case in which a brother and sister of primary school age were taken into care at a welfare home because they were neglected by their mother. Later, the mother took them home after insisting on her parental rights. But the mother again began neglecting the children and they were unable to attend school. The head of the home asked a family court to deprive the mother of her parental rights and sought cooperation from a family relative.While they lived at the home, the two children sometimes expressed their desire to see their mother. The head of the home felt sorry for the children, believing that the loss of the mother's parental rights would sever the bond between her and her children.Eventually, he withdrew the request to deprive her of her parental rights. "The case was too serious to deprive the mother of her parental rights. With the new system, it'll be possible to mend the bond between parents and their children while parental rights are suspended," the official said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 28, 2011]

Children’s Welfare in Japan

The first basic law related to children and their welfare was the Child Welfare Law (Jido Fukushi Ho), enacted in 1947. According to this law, “children” (“jido”) are defined as young persons under the age of 18. There are three sub-categories: infants of less than one year of age, who are officially called “nurslings” (“nyuji”); children aged one year or more who have not yet entered elementary school, known as yoji; and children from elementaryschool age through the age of 17, who are called “shonen”. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“In accordance with the Child Welfare Law, each of Japan’s 47 prefectures operates several child guidance centers (“jido sodanjo”). Each of these centers employs child welfare workers (“jido fukushishi”) who have received specialized training and are available for consultation on all sorts of matters concerning children in the areas under each center’s jurisdiction. They make systematic inquiries and decisions from a specialist’s viewpoint, give necessary guidance to children’s guardians, and authorize arrangements for the temporary custody of children by foster parents or for the entry of disadvantaged children into residential welfare facilities.

“Such arrangements are made in close consultation with welfare offices and health centers (“hokenjo”). City, town, and village governments employ commissioned child welfare volunteers (“jido iin”) who, in cooperation with the child welfare workers and certified social workers, try to gain an adequate understanding of the living environment of children, pregnant women, and new mothers who need assistance. Public facilities for the special care of children include homes for infants (“nyujiin”), day nurseries (“hoikusho”), and hospital homes for children with severe mental and physical disabilities.

Revisions of the Child Welfare Law in Japan

The Child Welfare Law underwent large-scale revisions in 1997. These were made in order to respond to changes in the living environment of children during the last 50 years. Examples of such changes are the now predominant pattern whereby both husbands and wives work to maintain the family income; the trend toward nuclear families with no more than two generations per household; and the decrease in the number of children, with a total fertility rate (average number of children estimated to be persons born to each woman during her lifetime) of only 1.37 in 2009. The revisions in the Child Welfare Law emphasize going beyond the concepts of protection and emergency relief to address the issue of supporting children in ways that will help them become socially, spiritually, and economically self-reliant by the time they are young adults. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“The revised law provides for the establishment of support centers for households with children (“jido katei shien senta”), which work with the child guidance centers and give many types of advice and guidance for children in their area. The names and functions of some types of facilities have been changed to emphasize “self-reliance” (“jiritsu”) rather than just custodial care. For example, the former “homes for training and education of juvenile delinquents” (“kyogoin”) have been renamed “children’s self-reliance support facilities” (“jido jiritsu shien shisetsu”), and “homes for fatherless families” (“boshiryo”) have been renamed “livelihood support facilities for mothers and children” (“boshi seikatsu shien shisetsu”). For single-mother households, necessary measures, along with those already in place under the Child Welfare Law, were facilitated by the Law for the Welfare of Fatherless Families and of Widows (Boshi Oyobi Kafu Fukushi Ho), enacted in 1964.

“Prior to the revision of the Child Welfare Law, a 10-year agenda, officially named Basic Orientations to Assist Child-Raising and colloquially known as the Angel Plan, was jointly put together in 1995 by the Education, Health and Welfare, Labor, and Construction ministries. Since one of the reasons for the trend toward smaller families is the growing presence of women in the workplace, this plan aims to build an environment that makes it possible for women to feel confident that they can raise children while holding jobs. Among the various measures promoted were the expansion of the capacity of day nurseries, a lengthening of the hours during which day nurseries are open, and a large increase in the number of child-rearing support centers (“kosodate shien senta”) throughout Japan.

“The Angel Plan was revised in 1999 to create the New Angel Plan, which expanded numerical targets for various types of care facilities. In 2003 the Law for Measures to Support the Development of the Next Generation (Jisedai Ikusei Shien Taisaku Suishin Ho) was passed. Covering the 10- year period beginning 2005, this law prescribes guidelines for formulating action plans by the national government, local governments, and business operators to develop the environment necessary to bring up healthy children. The prevention of child abuse has become an increasingly prominent issue, with the number of reported cases growing rapidly in the past decade.

“The Child Abuse Prevention Law went into effect in 2000 and was revised in 2004. This revision expanded the criteria under which people are obligated to make a report to a child guidance center, and it clarified the authority of center personnel to make on-site investigations.

Child Welfare Facilities in Japan

The Tiger Mask donations also cast light on the poor conditions at child welfare facilities and the low standards — which were set in the 1940s and 50s — they are expected to meet. For example, the standards stipulate “baths should be given at least twice a week” and “living space per child should be 3.3 square meters.”

There are 579 children’s welfare facilities in Japan. They take in children aged 2 to 18 who have lost their parents or who can not live with their parents for one reason or another. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry there were 29,753 children in welfare facilities in 2009, up from 25,741 in 1995. The increase is due mainly to child abuse as the total number of children has declined since then. Surveys have revealed that more than half the children at welfare facilities have been abused by family members.

According to a 2010 survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun 76 percent of the 1,128 children in the 37 welfare facilities for short-term treatment of emotionally-disturbed children have been victims of child abuse before they arrived at the facilities, double the number in 1997. The survey also found that 70 percent of the facilities suffer from shortages and overburdened staff. Staff members have said that at the facilities “self-injury” is nothing unusual.

Tiger Mask Donations and Poor Facilities for Children

In late 2010 and early 2011 a number of gifts such as school backpacks were given anonymously to child welfare facilities by people calling themselves Naoto Date — the hero of the popular “Tiger Mask” manga. In the “Tiger Mask” manga and anime Naoto Date is a professional wrestler who contributes to an orphanage as he himself was an orphan. The school backpacks are something every schoolchild is required to have even though they can be outrageously expensive — $200 or $400 or more.

The Tiger Mask episode began when ten gift-wrapped school backpacks — collectively worth about $3,500 — were found on Christmas Day outside the entrance of a children’s welfare center in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture. A Christmas card was attached saying, “Please use them for the children.” The card was in an envelope bearing the name “Naoto Date.” The facility decided to keep the backpacks and gave them to students entering school the next year.

After that other anonymous gifts from “Naoto Date” as well as “Yabuki Joe” (an anime boxer), “Momotaro” ( a nursery tale hero) and “Kimottama-kasan” (a drama heroine whose name means “Gritty Mom”) began appearing at other children’s welfare centers across Japan. The gifts included backpacks as well as bags of rice, onions and rice balls. Another beneficiary was Kodansha, publishers of “Tiger Mask” manga, that re-released the manga and rode the renewed interest all the way to the bank.

Child Accidents in Japan

Japan has a relatively high accident rate for children aged one to four: 12.5 deaths per 100,000, compared to 5.6 deaths in Sweden and 15.9 in the United States.

The accident rate for children one or under is 18.3 deaths per 100,000, compared to 2.5 deaths in Sweden and 23 in the United States.

Young children fall into bathtubs full of water, climb around the inside of car, unrestrained by seat belts or car seats, and ride bikes without helmets. Houses are full of minor dangers like steep stairways and deep bathtubs that are sunk into the floor.

Child Security in Japan

After the murder of two 7-year-old girls as they walked home from school in Hiroshima and Tochigi prefecture in 2005, parents escorted their children to school and supplying their kids with noise makers they could use if the encountered a creepy stranger.

Crimes Involving Children, See Government, Crime

The wave of crime against children lead parent to avoid letting their children walk alone to school, requiring them to walk in groups escorted by an adult. Many schools locked their gates and gave teacher and mothers security patrol duties. Many schools installed security cameras and showed films or skits telling students what to do if approached by a stranger.

A wide ranges of merchandise is available to protect kids from potential attackers. Some noisemakers have global positioning devices that help their parents keep track of where they. One company even markets knife-resistant clothing for children.

A wide range of GPS devices, smart cards and security services and devices are available that allow parent to monitor and track their children and get help if their think their child is in trouble. Some families use GPS-enabled cell phones and GPS-enabled cell phone services that can provide parents with a map of where there children are and summon a security guard for $100 if desired; smart cards with IC card readers that make sure only children not intruders can enter certain facilities such as cram schools; and special GPS devices designed specifically to keep track of children.

Some school children carry plastic radio frequency identity (RFID) tags on their backpacks that keep track of their whereabouts on a central computer, which in turn informs parents by e-mail when their kids enter the school ground and when they leave. RFID technology was developed by Fujitsu. It is also use by motorists to pay tolls electronically without stopping at booths and by airlines to keep track of baggage.

Image Sources: Ray Kinnane, Andrew Gray, Photosensibility

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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