Japanese police launched investigations into a record 1,380 child abuse cases in 2018, up 21.3 percent from the previous year, an official report showed Thursday, likely reflecting their increased efforts to intervene amid an escalation in instances of abuse.
Of the nationwide total, 1,095 cases involved physical abuse, followed by 226 sexual abuse cases, according to the report by the National Police Agency.
The number of child victims also hit a record high, up 19.3 percent from 2017 to 1,394, and that of children who were taken into protective custody climbed 19.1 percent to a record 4,571, it said.
"It is a worrying situation," said NPA Commissioner General Shunichi Kuryu. "We would like to coordinate with child consultation centers, schools and others while advancing our efforts by putting children's safety first."
Tetsuro Tsuzaki, head of the Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, said the rise in the number of investigations reflects the police's proactive attitude as well as the increasing severity of the abuse.
"There has been a slew of serious cases in which child victims died, and we think the situation is worsening," he said.
The report was released amid growing concern in Japan over parental violence against children following the death in January of 10-year-old Mia Kurihara at her home in Chiba Prefecture. Authorities suspect she died after suffering physical abuse.
The ongoing probe has uncovered failures by local welfare authorities and her school to respond in a timely fashion to the girl's appeals for help.
Among other cases to have attracted national attention was that of 5-year-old Yua Funato, who died in March last year at her Tokyo home having made desperate pleas for her parents to "forgive" and stop mistreating her. The parents have been indicted for neglect resulting in the girl's death.
Of the 1,419 people police investigated as possible assailants in the cases, 622 are the victims' biological father, followed by 352 who are the biological mother and 266 who are foster fathers, according to the report.
After the tragic recent deaths of children due to alleged mistreatment by their parents, the central government has decided to step up efforts to prevent child abuse and is seeking to revise related laws to that end during the ongoing Diet session.
The measures are expected to include strengthening the police's ability to identify cases of child abuse at an early stage, such as by holding joint training with child consultation centers and enhancing support by placing current and retired police officers at the centers.
Tsuzaki said the government's plan would be "effective to a certain degree" but also urged child consultation centers, schools and private-sector bodies to consider ways for the community to prevent child abuse, as a heavy police presence could make parents guarded.