February 7, 2019
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child on Thursday urged Japan to do more to let children be children, free of excessive pressures or corporal punishment in school or at home.
The human rights watchdog also urged Japanese authorities to look into the root causes of rising adolescent suicide rates, now at a 30-year high.
A total of 250 children took their own lives in the year to last March, according to authorities, while overall suicide numbers are in steady decline.
“We urged (Japan) to take measures to ensure that children enjoy their childhood, without their childhood and development being harmed by the competitive nature of society,” Kirsten Sandberg, one of a panel of 18 independent experts, told a briefing.
Japanese law prohibits corporal punishment in schools but the ban is “not effectively implemented”, while many children also endure it at home, the U.N. panel said.
Japan was shocked last March by the death of 5-year-old Yua Funato, who left handwritten notes seeking forgiveness from her abusive parents.
The U.N. panel said children should have access to a 24/7 helpline.
It also criticised Japan for having lowered the minimum age for criminal punishment from 16 to 14 years, and said children were often removed from families and placed in institutions without a court order for being “likely to commit a crime”.
Masato Ohtaka, of Japan’s foreign ministry, told the panel that Japanese children faced challenges such as bullying, abuse, sexual exploitation and poverty, and that Japan aimed to establish a robust social system in which all generations could enjoy peace of mind.
In July, the Japanese government promised emergency steps to boost the number of child welfare workers by 60 percent within five years.
The Committee carries out a two-day review of countries’ records every five years.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)