The Japan Times 2019.2.4
CHIBA – The death of a 10-year-old girl in Chiba Prefecture after alleged abuse by her father has added to cases that had already raised concern over the country’s child protection system.
Insufficient commitment and coordination by local authorities and schools in tackling such cases have been increasingly criticized since fourth-grader Mia Kurihara died last week at home in the city of Noda, with police arresting her 41-year-old father on suspicion of assault.
The Chiba Prefectural Government has decided to set up a third-party committee to review how the case was handled.
“We will never repeat cases like this,” Gov. Kensaku Morita told reporters Thursday.
Local authorities including a child consultation center had been alarmed multiple times about the abuse against Mia but they failed to prevent her death.
“When my mom is not around, dad slaps me and it’s very painful. I wish she was with me all the time,” one of her friends in Okinawa Prefecture recalled Mia as saying.
Her family lived in Itoman, Okinawa, before moving to Chiba.
The friend also said she had spotted bruises on Mia’s back when changing for physical education.
In a questionnaire conducted at their school around spring 2017, Mia replied that she was abused by her father, Yuichiro Kurihara, according to the friend.
The school recently said her teacher had not confirmed any abuse, adding it has discarded the questionnaire.
While the family was still living in Itoman, the city government asked Kurihara to accept a home visit by officials after being alerted by a relative of the family in July the same year about his alleged abuse of Mia and violence against her mother.
The family moved to Noda the following month and no such visit was made. Officials in Itoman did not pass on information regarding the alleged abuse to those in Noda as they “could not confirm” whether it was true.
At her new school in Noda, the girl again detailed her father’s “bullying” against her in a questionnaire, according to the local board of education. She was then taken into protective custody at the local child welfare center.
But because she expressed a desire to go home, the center concluded the abuse was “not serious” and ended her protection toward the end of December the same year so she could stay with relatives.
The school handed a copy of Mia’s report to Kurihara in January 2018 after he lodged a protest about the allegation and told school officials he would take the matter to court.
From the time she returned home in March, neither the center nor the school paid a visit to the home to check on her safety.
She had missed school for more than two weeks before she was found dead in the bathroom of the house last week.
Experts have criticized the school for having informed her father of what she said in the questionnaire because the act may have only worsened the girl’s situation.
“The school lacked the principle of placing children’s safety first,” said Naoki Ogi, an education commentator and special professor at Hosei University, who also underscored the importance of coordination between welfare authorities, schools and police to resolve such issues.