Forced participation in religious activities to be classified as child abuse in Japan
TOKYO - New health ministry guidelines in Japan will classify as
abuse any acts by members of religious groups who threaten or force
their children to participate in religious activities, or that hinder a
child’s career path based on religious doctrine.
According to unnamed sources cited by Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun,
the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry is preparing its first draft of
guidelines to help local governments deal with issues of child abuse
that have emerged in connection with religious groups such as the
Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World
Peace and Unification.
The controversial Unification Church came to attention in 2022 after former prime minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot by a man with longstanding grudges against the religious group.
Children of religious groups’ followers have criticised the authorities’ handling of this issue in the past.
They have said child consultation centres and the police did not
respond to their complaints of abuse, telling the children there was
nothing they could do because freedom of religion is protected under the
In October, the ministry told local governments not to make
perfunctory responses simply because a problem is religious in nature.
It is also working to outline specific points in the guidelines that the
authorities should be aware of when dealing with such cases.
According to the sources, the envisaged guidelines will be in a
question-and-answer format and will specify what faith-based acts
against children fall under the categories of abuse as stipulated in the
Child Abuse Prevention Law.
The law stipulates four types of abuse: physical, sexual, neglect and psychological.
Inciting fear by telling children they will go to hell if they do not
participate in religious activities, or preventing them from making
decisions about their career path, is regarded as psychological abuse
and neglect in the guidelines.
Other acts that will constitute neglect include not having the
financial resources to provide adequate food or housing for children as a
result of making large donations, or blocking their interaction with
friends due to a difference in religious beliefs and thereby undermining
their social skills.
When taking action, the guidelines will urge child consultation
centres and local governments to pay particular attention to the
possibility that children may be unable to recognise the damage caused
by abuse after being influenced by doctrine-based thinking and values.
In addition, there are concerns that giving advice to parents may
cause the abuse to escalate and bring increased pressure from religious
groups on the families. In the light of this, the guidelines will call
for making the safety of children the top priority and taking them into
temporary protective care without hesitation.
For children 18 years of age or older and not eligible for protection
by child consultation centres, local governments should instead refer
them to legal support centres, welfare offices and other consultation
Guidelines already exist for child consultation centres on how to
respond to abuse, but this will be the first time that they are devised
specifically for children of religious followers.
The ministry has been developing these guidelines based on interviews
conducted with some of the children in question.
THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA