483 children abandoned in last 3 years, survey shows
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nearly 500 children have been found abandoned or neglected by their parents in the three years through March this year, according to a nationwide survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
In May, the skeletal remains of a boy were discovered in an apartment in Atsugi, Kanawaga Prefecture. A series of such cases, in which children have died of malnutrition after being abandoned by their parents, has recently come to light. Experts have said a detailed survey of the current situation must be carried out.
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun survey, 483 children have been found abandoned in the last three years, including cases in which their lives were put in danger. However, the central and local governments have not conducted a detailed survey nor taken any special preventative measures. They will likely be called on to promptly create a system to find such children at an early stage and take them into protective custody.
The survey, which was conducted in June, asked 69 local governments with child consultation centers—including governments of prefectures, government ordinance-designated cities and some core cities—about such factors as the number of children left alone at home or other places from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2013.
The figure includes cases in which parents left children at home and went out of contact, in which they frequently left children indoors or outdoors for long hours, and in which parents abandoned babies shortly after birth.
In fiscal 2013, there were 131 such children, compared to 199 in fiscal 2012 and 153 in fiscal 2011.
By prefecture, Osaka had the largest number with 120, followed by Tokyo with 102 and Saitama with 48. All 26 cases in Kumamoto Prefecture were children left at a foster care facility for abandoned newborns at Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto city.
However, local governments have different understandings of the word “abandonment,” as the central government has only a vague definition.
Of the 69 governments, 28 local governments said they had no cases of child abandonment, but some of the 28 did not count incidents in which parents frequently left children alone at night. Therefore, the number may rise if a more formal survey is conducted.
By age, children under 3 years old topped the list at 197, or 41 percent of the total. The number of children in primary school was 123, accounting for 25 percent, while that of children 3 years old and above who had not yet entered school was 114, or 24 percent.
The figure also includes 28 middle school students, or 6 percent, and 21 high school students and others, or 4 percent.
Some of the cases have been life-threatening, given the conditions in which the children were left and their age. In Saitama, a 2-year-old boy was found in an apartment on the verge of dying of starvation. At JR Shin-Osaka Station, a 1-year-old girl was found abandoned in a restroom.
Regarding the challenges in tackling the issue, many local governments answered that it is difficult to instruct parents. They said some parents make no effort to understand the dangers of neglecting their children and do so repeatedly.
“We need to provide general livelihood support for parents who need to work at night for financial reasons,” a municipal official said.
“The number of abandoned children is huge, and the situation absolutely cannot be ignored. In some cases, children nearly died. Even after they are taken into protective custody, psychological damage remains a concern,” said Prof. Jun Saimura of Kwansei Gakuin University, an expert on child abuse. “The central government needs to take immediate countermeasures after studying why and how such cases occur.”