By Mari Yamaguchi
The Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) A Japanese girl was held captive at home for eight years by her mother, officials revealed for the first time Oct. 30, acknowledging that authorities repeatedly missed the abuse despite several warning signs.
The girl was first locked away in 1998 when she was just 11 and kept in confinement until 2006, when she was rescued after a neighbor reported possible abuse, officials in northern Sapporo city said.
Sapporo official Hisashi Okada said the victim, now 21 years old, has lost all memory of the confinement a typical symptom of trauma but that the abuse has left its mark, and she is still undergoing rehabilitation. Among the effects of the abuse are intellectual disabilities: The woman only has the reading ability of a 6-year-old.
Okada said that authorities missed several opportunities to catch the abuse.
Regrettably, we had repeatedly missed important signs, even though we had a feeling that something was wrong with the family, Okada said. We should have taken another look and gone a step further.
The mother started pulling her daughter out of school in her third year of elementary school. In the sixth grade, she attended only one day of school and just two the following year. In 2000, she stopped attending altogether. But teachers did not suspect abuse.
School officials contacted the mother by phone and arranged house visits, Okada said, but the woman never let them see her daughter.
At the behest of city officials, the girl by then a young woman of 19 was finally rescued by her father and other relatives in August 2006, when a neighbor reported hearing yelling and hitting coming from the home.
She was found sitting against the wall inside a room, unable to talk or stand, despite having no obvious injuries, Okada said. She did not show signs of malnutrition either. No other details were given of her condition.
Kazunaga Shibata, director of the citys juvenile center, said she is considered a victim of neglect, rather than physical abuse.
Authorities have not pursued criminal charges against the womans parents. But her mother has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized.
The victims father, who separated from his wife in 2004, contacted city officials several times but consultations only focused on his wifes mental state, Okada said.
Child abuse is a growing problem in Japan, where the number of cases rose to a new record high of more than 40,000 in the year through March, nearly a 10 percent jump from the previous year, according to the health ministry.
Government efforts to fight abuse have been hindered because children were long considered the belongings of their parents, who often justified the use of violence as discipline.
Child abuse has grabbed headlines in recent years with several shocking cases. Last year police arrested a mother whose 3-year-old son died after she allegedly forced him to swallow large amounts of hot red pepper. ♦