The Yomiuri ShimbunSAPPORO — The Hokkaido prefectural police have arrested the mother of a 2-year-old girl and her partner on suspicion of inflicting bodily harm on the girl.
The pair — Rina Ikeda, 21, a restaurant employee from Chuo Ward, Sapporo, and Kazuya Fujiwara, 24, a manager of a restaurant also from Chuo Ward — are suspected of beating and otherwise abusing the girl, Ikeda’s oldest daughter.
The girl was brought to the hospital early in the morning of June 5, where she died. A forensic autopsy determined the cause of death to be emaciation. Ikeda and Fujihara were arrested June 6.
A forensic autopsy of 2-year-old Kotori Ikeda showed her stomach to be empty, according to investigative sources.
The autopsy also indicated Kotori had been subjected to physical abuse in addition to not being fed for a long period.
The Sapporo child welfare center and the prefectural police received three reports and observed signs of abuse, yet were unable to save the life of this young child.
The sources said there was absolutely nothing in Kotori’s stomach, and they suspect she had not eaten anything in the two or three weeks prior to her death.
The cause of death was determined to be emaciation due to insufficient nutrition. Kotori weighed only about 6 kilograms, about half of what an average child her age weighs.
New and old bruises, thought to be from physical blows, were found all over her body, including on her head, face and back, indicating that she was subjected to regular abuse.
Long burn scars were found on the soles of both feet, along with what appear to be cigarette burns on her upper and lower body.
“Her body was so small, like an infant just a few months old. The scars from burns and blows were terrible to look at,” a senior investigator said.
Child welfare, police: ‘No abuse’
The child’s abuse was first reported to the child welfare center on Sept. 28, 2018. A center worker visited the home and met Kotori, but decided there was no abuse.
More than six months later, on April 5, a neighbor reported “hearing a crying child.” A center worker visited the residence, but nobody was at home. Four days later, the center finally got in touch with Ikeda, Kotori’s mother, by telephone, but after that was unable to contact her by phone.
More than a month passed without anyone confirming Kotori’s condition, when on May 12, someone called the prefectural police to report hearing a crying child. The police contacted the center, but staff there refused to accompany the police because they were not prepared for home visitations at night.
On May 15, the police met one-on-one with both Ikeda and Kotori. They found bruises on Kotori’s face and other areas, but nothing conflicted with Ikeda’s explanation that the marks came from a fall.
The police told the center there was “no abuse requiring an emergency response.” In the end, no one from the child welfare center had seen Kotori to confirm her safety since September.
The center and police provide conflicting accounts of this chain of events.
The police said they told the center to consider conducting an “official inspection,” in which staff enter the home by force with permission from a court. The center said this never happened.
And while the police said the center refused to accompany them on the May 15 visit, the center said that the police did not want center staff to come with them.
Severe worker shortage
In the wake of the death from abuse of 5-year-old Yua Funato of Meguro Ward, Tokyo, the government demanded in July last year that child welfare centers ensure they directly confirm a child’s safety within 48 hours of receiving an abuse report.
If a child’s safety cannot be confirmed, in principle an on-the-spot investigation should be conducted. However, in Kotori’s case no one from the child welfare center confirmed her safety after the April report and no on-site investigation was conducted.
In a press conference on June 6, Makoto Takahashi, the head of the Sapporo child welfare office, said, “In practice, we often don’t make it in time.”
Part of this is due to a lack of staff. Sapporo’s population of about 1.96 million people is served by 49 child welfare commissioners.
While this fulfills the staffing standard of having one commissioner for every 40,000 people, in principle, each commissioner is reportedly dealing with well over 100 cases.
The center takes calls at night, but cases not deemed urgent by senior staff members are not addressed until the next morning.