Whereabouts of 4,200 kids in Japan unknown

Whereabouts of 4,200 kids in Japan unknown

JAPAN - Municipalities in 34 prefectures could not locate a total of 4,176 small children who failed to receive mandatory medical checkups in fiscal 2012, a Yomiuri Shimbun survey has found, raising concerns that some of the children may be victims of child abuse.

This is the first information of its kind, as there are no national statistics on such children.

Following a series of abuse-related deaths among children who did not show up for mandatory medical checkups, the central government asked municipalities last autumn to confirm the whereabouts of small children. But the survey has found that their confirmation efforts were insufficient, as some municipal governments simply made phone calls or sent letters to parents or guardians, instead of making the confirmation in person.

Under the maternal and child health law, municipalities are required to provide medical checkups to children who are at least 18 months old but under 2 years, as well as to children who are 3. Most municipalities also offer such services for children aged under 1.

The Yomiuri survey, conducted in November, covered 1,742 municipal governments. All of them responded.

According to the survey results, 499 babies under 1 could not be located by their municipal governments. There were also 1,423 such children in the 18 months to 2 years bracket. The municipalities were unable to confirm the whereabouts of 2,254 children aged 3.

Out of about 150,000 children in the latter two age brackets who failed to receive the medical examinations, the unaccounted-for children made up about 2.5 per cent.

Tokyo had the most children who could not be accounted for at 752, followed by Saitama Prefecture at 638, Chiba Prefecture at 583 and Aichi Prefecture at 453. As some wards in Tokyo and populous cities such as Yokohama and Osaka do not tally such figures, the actual numbers are believed to be higher.

Municipalities in seven prefectures said they located all the children who failed to receive medical checkups: Akita, Yamagata, Ishikawa, Tottori, Shimane, Tokushima and Kagoshima. However, some of these municipalities said they confirmed the whereabouts only by calling parents or guardians or sending letters that urged them to have their children receive the mandatory medical examinations. This indicates that their confirmation work leaves much to be desired.

Reasons why the municipalities were unable to locate the children remain unknown. But children of foreign nationality may have returned home without their residence registry being changed, while other people might have moved to escape domestic violence. In the survey, many municipalities cited a lack of manpower and the protection of personal information as additional challenges to their confirmation efforts.

In recent years, deaths of children who failed to receive mandatory medical checkups have been on the rise. Small children who did not get the medical examinations accounted for less than 10 per cent of the total. However, 25 per cent to 43 per cent of the 58 reported child abuse deaths in fiscal 2011 involved small children who failed to receive medical checkups. The percentages depended on the age brackets.

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry panel has warned that there is a high possibility of child abuse in households where children do not receive municipal medical checkups.

"The parents of the unaccounted-for children may have been driven into a corner mentally and financially, and this raises the possibility of child abuse," said Jun Saimura, a Kwansei Gakuin University professor who heads the ministry panel. "Also, families often move between different municipalities, so it's an urgent task for the central government to create a unified system to share information on such children."

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