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.