Nobody really knows how many children are missing

TOKYO —

After the discovery of skeletal remains of a small boy—believed dead since 2007—in a trash-filled apartment in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture last week, a girl who was due to enroll in elementary school in April 2013 but who never showed up, was also reported missing. In Kawasaki City in the same prefecture, 11 children appear to be missing.

These disturbing numbers, reports Nikkan Gendai (June 6) may very well be just the tip of a very nasty iceberg.

In Osaka’s Higashi Sumiyoshi Ward, the disappearance a six-year-old girl who had been missing since February 2013 has also come to light, with the media casting derision on the authorities’ lax efforts at ascertaining the welfare of children.

According to data collected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the whereabouts were not known for a total of 705 children of primary and middle school age listed in nationwide family residential registers in 2013. The previous year, the figure was 976 children, and the year before that, 1,191.

While the number of missing children appears to indicate a declining trend, however, these figures, Nikkan Gendai asserts, are a trick.

“Unless there is data concerning the actual living situation of the registered child, the government can disregard them at its discretion,” says an unnamed source with ties to the ministry. Once this occurs, local boards of education can expunge the child’s name from their master list for a given school year.

“It’s possible the actual number of missing children is several thousand at the very least, and may be over 10,000,” says nonfiction writer Yuki Ishikawa, author of a book titled “Report: Children’s Neglected Society.” “The government began conducting a survey of missing children from 50 years ago, but until 2010 it was conducted in a haphazard manner and the numbers cited each year always tended to be the same, around 300.

“Then from 2011, when the ministry became more thorough in its methods, the number leapfrogged to over 1,000. What’s more, the children covered by the survey are limited to those currently in primary and junior high schools. Once past the age of junior high school completion, they’re no longer covered,” Ishikawa adds.

This suggests there may be large numbers of 16- and 17-year-old runaways who are not included in any government figures. Their fates might not be as tragic as the boy’s corpse found in Atsugi—he is believed to have died of starvation—but as far as the government is concerned, no one knows if they are alive or dead.

“Sometimes a woman might leave her husband and move in with a boyfriend, taking her child along with her,” says Ishikawa. “Or, some families flee from loan sharks. There are a variety of reasons why a child’s presence might not be known, but at present the only point of reference we have is the ministry’s report. But their count doesn’t go as far as investigating whether a child is alive or dead. Sometimes cases like the one at Atsugi may be uncovered; but if a parent abandons a child in the mountains or in the ocean, they can just assume the pretense that they don’t know what became of their child, and it’s unlikely to wind up being investigated by the authorities.”

Ishikawa adds that while the government has been discussing measures to deal with the declining birth rate, at the same time it’s not doing anything about the thousands—or possibly even tens of thousands of children gone missing.

“I get the feeling they’re being inconsistent in their efforts,” she remarks acerbically.

Japan Today

  • 2

    Tessa

    I wouldn't be surprised at all if this were the case. I used to think the Japanese govt. was good at keeping tabs on all its citizens, until that centenerian scandal a few years back.

  • 3

    pointofview

    Do you actually think that they`ll sort out this problem? It has been known for years and no remedy. Such a shame.

  • -1

    Cricky

    Nobody knows?, social services have not cared. Had they, this situation might not be so large.

  • 1

    M3M3M3

    This is what happens in a system where if you aren't registered on paper with your local ward office, you simply don't exist.

  • 2

    Disillusioned

    Sadly, most of these missing kids only come to the attention of the authorities after the school notifies them. This tells you that, many of these kids meet their end at the hands of their own parents.

  • -1

    Tessa

    This is what happens in a system where if you aren't registered on paper with your local ward office, you simply don't exist.

    That's an excellent point. There was a notorious case in tokyo about 20 years ago when a woman had five kids by different men, but didn't register their births and kept them secretly at home. One day she abandoned them to follow a new boyfriend, and by the time they were discovered two of them were dead and the others were malnourished. Nobody even knew they existed in the first place. Sometimes i wonder how many more cases there are like this, perhaps even in my own neighborhood.

  • -1

    Cricky

    Births at the hospital should be loged on a central computer base, automatically notifying city hall, that gives a list of children who have not been placed in a school or had a check up, notifying social services when they disappear. Pretty easy...except for the hanko part.

  • 5

    gonemad

    So authorities can't tell the number of missing children yet they claim to know how many people have been abducted by North Korea?

  • 1

    justbcuzisay

    but if a parent abandons a child in the mountains or in the ocean, they can just assume the pretense that they don’t know what became of their child, and it’s unlikely to wind up being investigated by the authorities

    How horrible to think the authorities would not be inclined to immediately detain such parents for extensive questioning. No body, no crime? Such great 'civil service'

  • 0

    gogogo

    The government began conducting a survey of missing children from 50 years ago, but until 2010 it was conducted in a haphazard manner and the numbers cited each year always tended to be the same, around 300.

    Can I please have my tax money back, that is disgusting

  • 2

    tmarie

    This is also what happens when neighbours don't know each other and everyone thinks nothing is anyone's business. Japan amazes me at times. Busy bodies all over the place when it comes to stupid things like garbage but when it comes to the welfare of humans, no one reports they haven't seen the child next door or the granny up the street.

  • -3

    Cricky

    Child welfare approached in a haphazard manner? Haphazard? Guess there is no money in protecting children.

  • 4

    Tessa

    Busy bodies all over the place when it comes to stupid things like garbage but when it comes to the welfare of humans, no one reports they haven't seen the child next door or the granny up the street.

    And don't you just love those interviews with neighbours who say things like "I always thought something strange was going on there, the kid was always screaming" or "yeah, they used to lock him out of the house at night, he looked really skinny" and stuff like that ... I don't know how they can show their faces, to be honest. I used to be under the impression that Japanese society was close-knit, caring and trusting (well, toward fellow Japanese if not for anybody else) but not any more.

  • 2

    tmarie

    Well it's much like the "family is the most important" myth folks spout off here. I have polled my students and more than half of them don't know their next door neighbor'sd name if they live in an apartment building. The rates are better they live in a house but frankly, the notion that Japan is "close" and "helps" each other is a big fat joke - which is why kids can starve to death and old people can die and rot and no one notices until years later.

  • 2

    Tessa

    I have polled my students and more than half of them don't know their next door neighbor's name if they live in an apartment building.

    Hey, I recently informally polled my J-coworkers (aged from 35 to 65) and discovered that about a third of them live alone in one-room apartments and have almost no contact with their immediate relatives! It is one of the most shocking discoveries that I've made since moving to Japan.

    This country is sitting on a social time bomb.

    As for my neighbours, well I don't know their names but I know their doggies' names! Does that count as neighborly?

    • Moderator

      All readers back on topic please. Posts that do not focus on what is in the story will be removed.

  • -3

    Cricky

    There is no functional social services, no functional neighborly care...that's obvious dead children, dead old people. No one cares... Future looks great.

  • 0

    DenTok2009

    @Tessa Do you recall how the woman's children by five men were discovered? By the rent not being paid or the smell of the rotting corpse or a child escaping the room and alerting authorities? I think the government ought to put people to work by hiring inspectors/poll takers/kizuna authorities/whatever title to go around collecting data on babies born/due to start school and update current records and data entry personnel to start with. Hire a mix of retirees who hope to get hired for those bicycle parking enforcer positions, laid off middle aged people and young people straight out of high school/college and hopefully that mix will help each other as they compile data and go after parents to check on their child's welfare.

  • 0

    Tessa

    @DenTok2009 IIRC, the landlord finally discovered that the kids were living unaccompanied (rent, utilities etc hadn't been paid for some time) and notified the police. The mother turned herself in when she heard about it on the news.

    By the way your idea of data-collecting inspectors is not a bad one, but I doubt it would work. I remember in the wake of the centenarian scandal, census workers were sent out to confirm the number of occupants in each household. One lady came to my front door, asked a couple of questions (how many people live here, what are their ages), and left satisfied with my answers. That was the extent of it! She didn't ask to look in my closets, and I would've refused entry even if she had.

  • 0

    DenTok2009

    @Tessa Thanks for answering. So two decades ago, the Japanese landlords were pretty lax. I know nowadays that landlords/management companies will kick you out if the rent or keep tabs on you when late. (One place, not here in Japan, a friend told me about was pretty easy to get into. No credit check or any background check and no deposit, but if there was no rent paid on the first of the month, management went into the apartment and put all your belongings out on the curb!) Although one of my neighbors who apparently had been renting his house for several years left without paying a few months rent, the landlord put on a brave face as she cleaned out the house and declared she didn't want to rent out the house anymore.

    I certainly don't want a nosy inspector barging into my home to make sure I don't have unreported children but I wonder how the government can go around making sure the collected data is accurate. Guess there is no way to do that in a democratic society.

  • 1

    Novenachama

    In general Japanese authorities probably don't have a better handle on how many children are missing because law enforcement is too slow in reporting missing children to crime databases, the classification of missing or runaway children in the prefecture or branch office computers is inconsistent, and the records are probably purged once they reach age 18 even if they haven't been located. The authorities could possibly have problem with the true number of missing children because they have not perfected reporting technique that track the number of missing children who have been abducted or have run away. I believe in some cases a lack of accurate, up-to-date information is a result of law enforcement waiting too long before taking a report from parents or other family members. I wouldn't be surprised if data takes several years to come in. Thus without accurate information on where children have gone missing or have runaway, it would seem too difficult to determine where resources should be routed to help stem the problem.

  • 1

    Kokuzi

    Sad state of affairs... Seems that the English translation of the title of the report by Ishikawa ("Report: Children’s Neglected Society") is poorly translated here. The article refers to this book by Ishikawa: "ルポ 子どもの無縁社会". The meaning is something like... "Report: A Society That Neglects Children".

  • 1

    SamuraiBlue

    Many of these familes went missing on purpose to get away from debts they had accumilated. This can be done by simply moving away to another location and not notifying the local government of moving out or moving in.

  • 0

    oldboy

    I hate to add anything to the Japanese police that would interrupt their lunch. However, if the police would identify juveniles on the street late at night it would help. In America they have curfew and the police can ask for ID and where you came from and are going. If the police are not satisfied they can take the juvenile to the station and call the parents to pick up the juvenile. the collected information can be kept in a computer file. Not a perfect solution but it also would reduce juvenile crime.

  • 2

    lucabrasi

    In America they have curfew and the police can ask for ID and where you came from and are going. If the police are not satisfied they can take the juvenile to the station and call the parents to pick up the juvenile.

    Sounds pretty much like a straightfoward description of a Fascist society.

    Do we want to live like that?

  • 0

    NZ2011

    <<ucabrasiJUN. 09, 2014 - 11:35AM JST In America they have curfew and the police can ask for ID and where you came from and are going. If the police are not satisfied they can take the juvenile to the station and call the parents to pick up the juvenile.

    Sounds pretty much like a straightfoward description of a Fascist society.

    Do we want to live like that?>>

    But that is exactly how it is, in most countries, apart from the curfew, including Japan and my home country you are obliged to give police your ID and if the police suspect you are up to no good you can be moved along or taken home, especially if a juvenile..

    Not sure it fits fascist.. I agree its open to power abuse, but can you suggest something better?

    If you are a foreigner here in Japan, you have not only have to carry some ID but very specific ID at all times..

    Anyway a little off topic..

    As most countries have a legal requirement for children to be in education it does seem like a fairly good method and timing to run a check.. provided you don't have an archaic system of localised record keeping...

  • 0

    It"S ME

    Japan also has a curfew of 23:00(11pm). This gives working teens 1hr to get home as they can't work after 22:00.

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