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Japanese parents suspected of causing baby’s death with BB gun, Asia News

Police in Japan are investigating the death of an infant child who was found with air gun pellet bruises all over his body last year.

Local media reported that parents Masanori Jokei and his wife, Ai, both aged 24, were arrested in the southern city of Fukuoka on Wednesday on suspicion of intentionally causing harm to their one-year-old son, Yuiga, in November last year.

According to local media, police said the couple was suspected of using multiple air guns to shoot the child in the weeks leading up to his death from pneumonia on December 1.

Authorities alleged that impact bruises from the pellets were found “all over” Yuiga’s body when emergency services responded to the mother’s call on December 1.

The boy was found not breathing, and died later that day.

Police did not give a reason for the delay in arresting the parents, but investigators said they believed Yuiga was subjected to daily abuse in the weeks before his death

Father arrested in Japan for using stun gun to discipline children

The parents have denied harming Yuiga, with Masanori Jokei telling police that their other son, aged 3, shot the boy.

In January 2018, officials from a local child welfare centre visited the family’s flat after receiving a report that the couple’s oldest son had been abused.

They confirmed bruising on the boy’s face, but decided against taking him into protective custody as his mother claimed he had walked into a wall.

Investigators also confirmed that the couple had another son who died at the age of 2 in 2016, with the cause of death listed as sudden infant death syndrome.

The couple also has a daughter aged three months. The two surviving children have been taken into protective custody. Police have questioned Masanori and Ai Jokei over the child abuse allegations, but have not charged the pair with the boy’s death.

Fujiko Yamada, who founded the Child Maltreatment Centre 21 years ago, said the case was “a tragedy” but more cases were inevitable.

Japanese mum of abused girl can't forgive herself

“A child is often seen in Japan as a possession and outsiders are usually reluctant to intervene, even when they fear something is wrong,” Yamada said. “People should intervene, but parents also have very strong rights under civil law and social workers and judges are also often reluctant to get involved or challenge a parent’s rights.”

Yamada said teachers were also torn between breaching parent confidentiality and privacy, and reporting to authorities when they suspect child abuse. She said most still err on the side of not reporting their suspicions.

Yamada said there was even more resistance within a family dynamic to report abuse.

“Relatives typically want to protect the parents first and foremost, or they think the family unit is more important than one individual child,” she said.

Yamada added that while they may try to offer advice, family members would not typically report abuse.

“Privacy and the importance that is placed on the family unit in Japan are contributing to these deaths,” she said. “Families close themselves off from everyone else around them. Their neighbours say they have the right to do as they wish, but no one hears about these incidents until it is too late.”

The kids aren't alright: Japan struggles to protect its most vulnerable children

According to the National Police Agency, child guidance centres across Japan received 80,252 reports of suspected child abuse in 2018, the 14th consecutive year that figures have increased since they were first collated in 2004.

A total of 1,394 children sustained harm over the course of the year, including 36 fatalities. Both figures were up by 20 per cent from the previous year and set new record highs.

In another case that attracted headlines, a court in Tokyo in October sentenced Yudai Funato to 13 years in prison for physically abusing and neglecting his five-year-old step-daughter, Yua.

The court found that Funato deliberately starved the girl, who also showed signs of frostbite when her body was discovered in March 2018. Yua weighed 12kg when she died, well below the average of 20kg for a child of her age, and an autopsy identified 170 separate injuries.

The court was read some of the messages that were found in the family’s home that were written by Yua begging for forgiveness from her parents for the things she was being punished for.

Yua’s mother, who claimed in court that she was afraid of her husband, was given an eight-year prison term.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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