A total of 120 child abuse and other mistreatment cases at nurseries and kindergartens have been reported at 37 local governments over the past decade, prompting administrative actions, according to a Kyodo News survey released Sunday.

The cases have generally been on an uptrend on the back of increased workloads on teachers and as corporal punishment and discipline come under greater scrutiny, experts said.

The survey, which covered 95 prefectural and city governments across Japan, followed a series of child mistreatment incidents, including one that led to the arrest in December of three women working as teachers at a nursery school in Shizuoka Prefecture for alleged repetitive abuse.

The high-profile incident involved acts such as teachers hitting toddlers and hanging them upside down by their feet.

Investigators enter a Sakura Hoikuen, a private nursery school in the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Susono in central Japan, to search the facility on Dec. 4, 2022. (Kyodo)

One of the teachers at the Shizuoka nursery school linked her behavior to an increased workload amid the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the local government was criticized for not disclosing the incident for around three months.

According to the survey, 64 of the local authorities surveyed carried out a total of 301 so-called special audits, where authorities visit facilities and conduct hearings on employees when there are severe risks to a child's life, health and mind, during the 10-year period.

The number of such audits jumped to 52 in fiscal 2021 from eight in fiscal 2013, while that of administrative actions increased to 27 in fiscal 2021 from two in fiscal 2013.

Of the 120 administrative actions that have been imposed on child care facilities, 63 had not been disclosed due to reasons such as the level of inappropriate child care being "minor" or treatment "having improved due to administrative instructions," the survey found.

The central government does not have a disclosure standard on administrative actions, so it is up to municipalities to decide what to disclose.

Of the total administrative actions, 96 were verbal or written instructions and 21 were recommendations to make improvements. There were also two administrative orders -- one to halt operations and a case where a facility's certification was revoked.

The survey, carried out from December to January, received responses from 95 local authorities, including 47 prefectural governments as well as major city governments with power to investigate nurseries, certified child care facilities and kindergartens.

Nearly 70 percent of the child mistreatment cases were grasped by the provision of information, including from whistleblowers.

Commenting on the survey results, Haruka Shibata, an associate professor of sociology at Kyoto University, said, "The main reason for inappropriate childcare is poor treatment of teachers and improper ratio of children to caregivers."

"The treatment of teachers and the ratios should be improved," Shibata said.

Yuichi Murayama, a nursery operator, expressed a similar view, saying that nursery teachers lack sufficient time to talk about and resolve issues occurring at their facilities themselves due to the tight ratio of children to caregivers.

Other experts said that the content of municipalities' audits and administrative actions related to child care facilities should be disclosed to provide reference materials to parents seeking to select the facilities.

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