Prosecutors on Friday sought a 20-year prison sentence for a man who allowed his 5-year-old son to starve to death at an abandoned apartment in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture.
The Yokohama District Court heard how the skeletal remains of Riku Saito were found in an apartment abandoned by his father Yukihiro Saito, a truck driver, in May 2014, Fuji TV reported. The boy had starved to death.
One month earlier, when the boy failed to show up at the start of the school term -- where he had been enrolled several years before -- school officials notified a child welfare center which, in turn, contacted police in May. Police went to the apartment and found the mail had been piled up but were unable to contact the boy's father until a week later. Saito lived in a different apartment. However, he accompanied police to the apartment where the remains of his son (given to the school as the boy's address) were found.
Saito -- who was divorced from the boy's mother -- was arrested after he admitted letting his son die due to starvation in the fall of 2006. Saito told police he moved out of the apartment shortly after.
It was learned that although officers from a local child welfare center were supposed to have visited the home to find out what had happened to the boy, they never went.
The Kanagawa Board of Education said that the elementary school where the boy had been enrolled tried to make contact with his family after he did not come to school in 2007. Officials visited the apartment several times but there was no answer and the school assumed the family had moved away and delisted the boy.
The court also heard that early one morning in October 2004, Riku had been taken into protective custody for a short time after he had run out of the house barefoot and wearing nothing but a diaper. While at the child welfare center, Riku was examined and found to have marks on his body signifying possible abuse.
A short while later, after the identity of Riku's father was established, staff members at the child welfare center met with Yukihiro and decided that an officer from the center would visit the home to establish whether or not the environment was fit for a young child. However, over the following four years, not one visit took place.
A spokesperson for the child welfare center said at the time: "Whether or not the individual in charge of the case forgot or was too busy, we do not know, and it doesn't matter. The fact remains that no home visits were conducted and that is a reflection of utter negligence on the part of the center."
Staff were quoted as saying that the center was grossly understaffed at the time, potentially further contributing to the problem. "At the current time, we believe that child welfare centers are not adequately equipped to deal with cases of abuse and neglect such as this one (Riku)," said one worker. "As such, a revision of these organizations is absolutely necessary at this time to prevent similar cases of professional negligence in the future."
The court will hand down its sentence on Oct 22.© Japan Today