As taboos fade children are more willing to talk about sexual misconduct by staff. Michael Fitzpatrick reports
CHILDREN are coming forward to reveal the extent of abuse they suffer at school and at home, according to the government.
Reports of sexual misconduct by teachers in schools have risen tenfold since 1989 while allegations of child abuse at home have risen by 70 per cent in the past year.
An education ministry report says the number of teachers disciplined for indecent behaviour or waisetsu-koui towards students rose from 12 to 51 in the past year. Teachers accused of sexual harassment or assault were either dismissed or suspended from work.
A ministry spokesman said waisetsu-koui indicates "sexual assaults on the pupil by hisher teacher", but the figures do not include rape allegations.
Educationists say the sharp rise in reported assaults can be attributed to the fact that the victims of sexual abuse are now more likely to come forward, as taboos subside in Japan. They say boards of education will have to become more willing to discipline teachers for unacceptable behaviour.
The ministry plans to draw on the survey to draft new laws to deal with unsuitable teachers.
Currently sacking is reserved for very serious cases concerning indecent acts or use of unlawful corporal punishment.
In a typical case of "lewd" and "inappropriate" behaviour last year a 23-year-old male PE teacer was suspended for three months for allegedly placing a video camera in the girls' changing room at a junior high school in Yamaguchi Prefecture, western Japan.
But observers say reported cases of this nature are just the tip of the iceberg.
They point to a study, conducted by the Tokyo's public schoolteachers' union, which found that one-tenth of Tokyo junior high-school girls say male teachers have asked them to serve tea or give them a massage, and a similar number say they were told to act more feminine.
More than 10 per cent of the girls said teachers had stared at their bodies, while slightly less than that said teachers had "touched their bodies".
Meanwhile, reported cases of child abuse outside school have rocketed by 70 per cent over the past year. A record 11,631 cases of child abuse were reported in 1999, according to a health and welfare ministry report.
The 1999 figure is about 10 times greater than the 1,001 cases reported in 1990.
These statistics cover instances of child abuse by parents and other custodians but do not include abuse at schools.
Physical violence, such as beating or kicking children, accounts for half the cases. Neglect, such as not feeding children, represented 32 per cent, and sexual abuse by the child's own parents accounted for six per cent.
One in five of the cases was so serious that the endangered children had to be placed in protective custody.