In 2019, the number of births in Japan numbered fewer than 87,000–a staggering new low amid decades of decline. The country’s declining birthrate continued to be a widely discussed societal issue last year along with a series of highly visible child abuse incidents. In order to combat the latter, the Amended Child Abuse Prevention Act, originally proposed to the National Diet by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare back in March, will prohibit corporal punishment when it takes effect this coming April. Last month the ministry also released guidelines in preparation for the impending legislation which define types of corporal punishment and strategies to combat child abuse.
In light of these new developments, Japanese travel provider Air Trip conducted an Internet survey in mid-December on topics related to the use of corporal punishment when disciplining children as well as child abuse, to gauge the general public’s reactions. There were 796 male and female respondents to the survey ranging in age from their 20s to 70s. Of these individuals, 456 have children of their own while 340 do not have any children. Let’s take a look at all six of the survey questions in greater detail and their corresponding results.
Q 1: [For those with children] Have you ever struck your child/been about to strike your child?
The survey results revealed that of the 456 respondents with children, 49.8 percent have struck a child before and 26.1 percent have been about to strike a child.
Q 2: Do you believe that corporal punishment is necessary when disciplining children?
For a little context, we’ve seen examples of corporal punishment in Japan this year go viral online and be hotly debated, including this teacher punching a student and a mother smacking her child. The majority of survey takers replied that the use of corporal punishment was at least occasionally necessary when disciplining children. Among those with their own children, 70.6 percent said that it was necessary on a daily basis or occasionally, while 67.4 percent of those without their own children said the same.
Q 3: The other day the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare released guidelines on corporal punishment. What do you think of them creating these guidelines?
Among all survey respondents, 50.8 percent had no opinion on the guidelines, 35.8 percent approved of them, and 13.4 percent opposed them.
Those who approved of the guidelines provided reasons such as “Adults these days are lacking in common sense so it’s necessary to spell things out for them” and “The definition of corporal punishment changes with the times so it’s best to be clear.” Those who opposed the guidelines provided reasons such as “Every household has a different style of parenting so it’s impossible to standardize guidelines in one manual” and “Even if guidelines are in place those who abuse children will continue to do it.”
Q 4: Within the corporal punishment guidelines released the other day by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, out of the concrete examples given as corporal punishment, please choose the ones that you consider to be corporal punishment.
Quick note: this particular question seems to comprise a looser definition of corporal punishment including punishments that are not directly physical but may encompass emotional abuse as well.
Both of the groups with and without children selected “Saying ‘I wish you were never born’ as a joke” as the most agreed-upon example of abuse (69.7 percent with children and 80 percent without children). The other examples in decreasing order of general consensus included “Not giving them dinner for not doing their homework,” “criticizing or ignoring only one sibling,” “hitting them because they hit a friend,” “slapping their cheek because they wouldn’t listen after you warned them,” and “making them sit seiza-style for a long time because they pulled a prank.”
The example with the least amount of general consensus was “Spanking them for stealing someone else’s things” (38.4 percent with children and 40.3 percent without children). A very small number of respondents also did not classify any of the examples as corporal punishment.
Q 5: What do you think about the punishments for child abuse by parents in present-day Japan?
Current law stipulates that offenders will serve under a year of penal servitude or pay under one million yen in fines. Those parents whose abuse results in the death of a child will serve between 3-20 years. Presently, neither life imprisonment nor the death penalty are stipulated by law.
Out of the survey respondents, 66 percent thought these penalties are too lax, 22.7 percent did not know, 7.8 percent thought they are appropriate, and 3.5 percent thought they are too strict.
Q 6: What needs to be done to stop child abuse by parents?
58.8 percent of all survey takers agreed that an expansion of parent consultation centers for parents was the most necessary countermeasure for change. The only three other responses that scored over 50 percent in general consensus included an expansion of temporary child protection shelters, proactive police intervention, and early intervention by child consultation centers.
The lowest-ranking response (besides “Other”) at 21.6 percent was a change in the duty and acquisition of paternity leave (i.e., a rethinking of traditional gender roles in Japan), which experts recently voiced as a prerequisite for raising the country’s declining birthrate.
All in all, it seems like Japanese parents still have yet to completely agree on what actually constitutes corporal punishment when disciplining their children. Perhaps an awareness campaign surrounding the government’s recently released guidelines will go a long way towards building a general consensus before the new law goes into effect early next year.
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