Hello, Kouryuu here! So today we’re actually going to be discussing a slightly more serious topic: Child welfare.
Higurashi Ch. 7 focuses a lot on a specific characters’ struggle with child welfare officials, and we decided to provide a brief look into the history of child welfare in Japan, and some of its problems—specifically its difficulty in handling cases of abuse, leading up to where it lay at the time of Higurashi, around 1983.
First of all, and perhaps surprisingly worth note, is that what first drew Japan’s attention to child welfare was actually the abundance of roaming war orphans that followed the nation’s defeat in World War 2. In the midst of such a crisis, what could be considered the first Japanese social workers were actually policemen tasked with patrolling areas to uncover orphans and bring them into protective custody under orders from the Ministry of Health and Welfare (now the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare). It took almost two years after the end of the war before the Child Welfare Act was first passed in 1947.
Of course, this law wasn’t without its limits due to the times. Since the pressing concern was securing the well-being of orphans, and supporting children in families who had lost a parent, the language in many of the articles places great emphasis on the child’s family being the ideal environment for raising a child, and it emphasizes aiding families (through guidance and welfare support) in raising their children, and even the articles allowing the newly established child consultation centers, or child guidance centers, to take children into custody notes that such measures are only temporary. Of course, that’s largely because at the time of its writing, taking children into “custody” was focused more on getting children off firebombed streets and back into parents’ arms or orphanages.
Where this law and its provisions met its first real test in trying to protecting children from guardians was merely a year later when a series of cases involving the sale of children hit war-torn Japan. Many of these cases involved young girls between 15 and 17, a majority of whom were sold into brothels (before prostitution was outlawed in 1957) or farm labor, with poverty being the leading reason for their sale. Despite these circumstances, the leading social cry was still for the children to be returned to their parents, and over the years these cases occurred, only a scant fraction were actually able to be placed into foster care or protective custody—most were still returned to their families, and a portion remained where they were sold to.
It also didn’t help matters any that while child guidance centers were struggling with this sale of children, their legal authority to put children into protective custody faced conflicting statures. When the revision of the Juvenile Law and the Ministry’s following missive in 1948 clarified that the child consultation center directors would have authority to take a child into custody against their will, another missive in the following year, 1949, emphasized that this was only acceptable in the short term, and without a ruling from family courts, the child would have to be returned to its guardian.
The first collection of case reports issued to social workers in 1950 managed to outline several cases of what would be defined as abuse (regular beatings and neglect by parents being two reported from actual guardians), and thus label the children and families for intervention, but then another missive in the same year reinforced the stance that taking children into custody was to be considered an extreme and rare measure, and that officials should above all strive to help children and parents find happiness in their own daily lives together. So even after the child consultation centers and the government published the Child’s Charter in 1951 to reaffirm the principles that children should be respected as people, the sale of children still remained an issue during Japan’s post-war recovery.
When discussing the centers’ ability to handle abuse cases, it’s worth noting that despite the case studies reported in 1951, it wasn’t until a decade later in 1961, two years after the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child issued by the UN, that the Child Welfare Act was amended to allow physical abuse and abusive neglect of children to qualify them for protective custody (with permission from family courts) without consent of the parents or guardians.
Despite the new amendment though, it was still difficult for the centers to respond to such cases, and the organization itself was preoccupied with some fundamental changes in infrastructure and responsibilities as it dealt with a huge post-Occupation influx of families who saw the departure of one parent as US forces returned home and some unique cases in the 60s involving delinquent orphans and attacks directed toward children under custody. So ultimately, it wasn’t until some nationally famous incidents, one in 1969 and one in 1973, both involving violent crimes committed by adults who had been regularly abused as children, that the public started to see domestic child abuse as a serious problem.
Further drawing public attention to the problem of child abuse was a series of incidents spanning 1970-1976, where dead babies were being abandoned and discovered in the public coin lockers developed in 1964. Due to the combined pressure from these public events the Ministry of Health and Welfare launched an investigation into cases involving the abuse, abandonment, and murder (or attempted murder) of infants under 3, revealing 401 cases on record in 1973. A year later in 1975, a seminar was held to discuss the problems in the system and how they could be improved, and while many were brought up—from the diverse nature of cases, to problems protecting the rights of children—but until Japan agreed to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 the organization was still unable to legally address cases of child abuse from a human rights perspective.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1981, two years before Higurashi takes place, that centers had any real examples of how to handle abuse cases. In 1981, the 13th collection of case studies was published, a collection which specifically compiled difficult cases involving physical abuse by guardians, child support refusal, and single parent families (the latter two types often involving abuse as well.)
With cases of child death, abandonment, and parental death or disappearance decreasing, these types of cases involving parental abuse or neglect started growing more common and gained more light. This 13th collection was also important for its inclusion of a case study where the child consultation center was actually able to work with family courts to have a family’s right of custody revoked, finally providing a real path to save children in danger.
Later, in 1984, the Ministry launched a real investigation into child abuse, abandonment, and murder cases brought to the center over the past decade, but even then it only recognized four types: physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Forbidding a child from attending school, a point brought up in this chapter of Higurashi, was not even counted as its own sign of abuse until further investigations led in 1989.
While the situation certainly improved throughout the 90s (even by 1989 almost 60% of reported abuse cases saw the child taken into custody), it’s important to keep in mind how difficult the struggle to protect a child was during Higurashi’s setting, especially since it takes place only two years after the first real case study of abusive parent losing custody of their child. We hope that this bit of background will help add to the depth of your enjoyment as you read Minagoroshi, and perhaps remind everyone not to take for granted the protections and welfare systems we all enjoy in our nations today.
Sources used in writing this article: