The father of a 10-year-old girl who died last month at their home near Tokyo forced her to write a letter stating he did not hit her so she would be returned home, a child welfare center said Tuesday, revealing more apparent missteps by authorities in protecting her life.
The father, Yuichiro Kurihara, showed the letter written by his daughter Mia in February last year when the welfare center was considering whether the girl, who was residing with a relative to escape suspected abuse by him, should return home, according to the center.
"I lied that I had been hit by my father. I said that to my elementary school teacher without thinking and caused lot of trouble to my father, mother, sister" and the relative, read the letter signed by the girl. "I am sorry."
Two days after the letter was shown by Kurihara to demand her return home, the child welfare center, which also serves as a temporary shelter for children, decided in a meeting to allow Mia to leave the relative's house and resume living with her parents and 1-year-old sister.
(Apartment block where fourth-grader Mia Kurihara lived in the city of Noda, near Tokyo)
After her return home in Noda, Chiba Prefecture last March, the girl told a center official at her school that her father had actually made her write the letter, which also stated she wanted to live with her parents and younger sister and did not want to meet officials of the child welfare center anymore.
Mia initially said in a school questionnaire on Nov. 6, 2017, that she was being "bullied" by her father who hit her. Because of the description and following discussions with her teacher, she was sent for her protection to the child welfare center in Kashiwa, near Noda, the next day, remaining there for seven weeks.
Hitoshi Nihei, head of the center, said officials at the center thought it was highly possible that the father had forced the girl to write the letter, but they did not ask her whether she had written it without compulsion before they decided to allow her to return home.
"Our role is to protect children's lives. We truly feel sorry," Nihei said at a press conference.
The action by the welfare center follows revelations that the education board of Noda, at Kurihara's insistence, gave him a copy of the school questionnaire when he demanded Mia's return home, an action feared to have aggravated his abuse of the girl.
Officials of the education board said recently they were frightened by his "intimidating demeanor" in explaining why they gave him the copy.
Tetsuro Tsuzaki, a former head of a child welfare center, said abusive parents "often apply pressure to children to say things they don't mean."
"Therefore, the (Kashiwa) center needed to confirm her feelings in a safe place without the presence of her parents," he said.
Jun Saimura, a professor on children's welfare at Tokyo Online University, said the center officials "might have wanted to avoid getting in trouble with the father."
"But people working in a child welfare center must have a sense of mission to protect the children till the end no matter what, as well as objective and calm eyes," he added.
In cases where they cannot avoid getting in trouble with parents, "coordination with police will become important," Saimura said.
The center ended the girl's protection in late December 2017 on condition that she would live with the relative. A center official met with her father in February the following year at the relative's home to decide whether she should return home.
Mia was found dead on Jan. 24 this year with bruising to her body in the bathroom of the family's home. Her father was arrested the next day on suspicion of assault, but an autopsy failed to determine the cause of the girl's death.
While she was not severely underweight, the autopsy revealed there was almost no food in her stomach, indicating she had not been fed sufficiently, according to investigative sources.
The girl's mother was sent to prosecutors Tuesday following her arrest a day earlier for allegedly failing to stop her husband from assaulting their daughter.
The mother has told police her husband had insisted that food not be given to their daughter in the days before her death, the sources said.
Prior to her arrest, the mother told investigators that despite her pleas her husband sometimes woke Mia up in the middle of the night and made her stand for long periods.
The father has told investigators he began making the girl stand from 10 a.m. on Jan. 24 and he does not believe his action was wrong because he was just "disciplining" her.
He is suspected of assaulting the girl from around 10 a.m. to 11:10 p.m. the same day, including dousing her repeatedly with cold water.
Investigators have been informed that the mother may also have suffered domestic violence.
A note taken by Mia's classroom teacher after hearing from the girl said the mother had been subjected to Yuichiro's violence when they were living in Okinawa Prefecture, prior to moving to Chiba.