Image Source: International Press
By Eleonora Zuares
On 24 January, Mia Kurihara was found dead in her house in Noda, near Tokyo. Her father is suspected of killing her. However, her death could have been avoided if it wasn’t for a series of blunders by the authorities.
It all began approximately a year ago when Mia Kurihara wrote a note to her teacher asking for help saying that her father, Yuichiro Kurihara, was abusive. “I’ve been receiving physical violence from my father,” the note read. “He wakes me up in the middle of the night. When I’m awake, he hits and kicks me. Teacher, can you do anything for me?” After this, the girl was put into custody and lived with a relative.
However, at a press conference on February 5th, 2018 the head of Child Welfare Center read a letter given to them by Yuichiro and supposedly written by Mia. The letter stated that “it was a lie that I was hit by my father. Please do not come to see me, I don’t want to see the staff from Child Welfare Center.”
Instead of questioning the integrity of the letter, the child was sent back home in March 2018, with no further follow-up on her well-being. After some time, the girl didn’t show up to school anymore. Yuichiro told the school officials that she was staying with relatives in Okinawa to avert suspicion. On January 24th, Mia Kurihara was found dead in her house.
The 41-year-old father was arrested on January 25th on the suspicion of causing the injuries that led to the daughter’s death. Her mother, Nagisa was also arrested for conspiring with Yuichiro to hide the injuries. The two, who still have a 1-year-old child, are still being investigated.
When the police questioned them, Yuichiro denied abusing his daughter, adding that he was a strict parent but would have never hurt her. However, the mother said that she was also abused by her husband and hid the daughter’s injuries out of fear for her own safety.
Both of them will stay in police custody, and no further information was given.
This story has led to many people thinking about the authorities not being responsible and unprofessional. According to the head of Kashiwa Child Welfare Center, authorities believed Kurihara may have forced his daughter to write the letter. “We were aware it was highly possible that her father insisted she write it.” Nevertheless, nothing was done about it.
The headteacher of the school decided to apologize for not taking the letters more seriously. “We could have protected the girl’s life but failed to do so and committed a fatal mistake because of my decision. I am deeply sorry.” He also said that the reason why he did this is that he felt intimidated by Yuichiro when he asked for copies of the letter the girl wrote. “Our role is to protect children’s lives,” he said at the same press conference. “We are truly sorry.”
Meanwhile, people on Twitter continue showing their disgust on the way people managed this event. “Mia’s death is delivering a terrifying message to the children (who have) difficulties — that adults break promises easily when children admit bullying and abuse to their school. The (numbers of) kids with nowhere to go only increases,” tweeted a user.
The death of the 10-year-old not only created anger but put a spotlight on child abuse in Japan. The police in 2018 reported 80,104 minors suspected to being abused, 22% more from the year before.
“My regret (is) that the school and Child Welfare Center, who are supposed to protect children, failed to respond to the SOS calls that Mia had courageously sent,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “I want to call for efforts to eradicate child abuse to protect children’s lives as a top priority.” He also declared that new rules on handling cases of abuse are being established. He ended his speech saying he wants more cooperation between schools and child welfare centers.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also urged Japan to do more to permit children to live more happily and safely, free of excessive pressures of physical punishment at school or home.