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Editorial: Society must watch over children more closely to prevent suicides

  • May 18, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:17 p.m.
  • English Press

The number of children who commit suicide is rising. As the new coronavirus epidemic becomes prolonged, affecting their everyday lives, the schools and adults around children must make every possible effort to prevent them from taking their own lives.


According to a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the National Police Agency, 20,169 people took their own lives in Japan in 2019, representing a decline for the 10th consecutive year. However, the number of suicides by children from age 10 to 19 increased from the previous year to 659.


This figure was the third consecutive yearly increase and marked the highest level in 20 years.


There has been a continuing trend in which the number of suicides increases around the end of long holidays such as summer vacation. Children who are having friction with friends or trouble with their studies tend to feel great pressure at the prospect of returning to school. Such circumstances are believed to play a part in the increasing number of suicides.


Schools across the nation are gradually reopening after being closed for more than two months due to the spread of the virus. It should be noted that there are risks different from those that arise after the end of regular holidays.


During the period when children were away from school, there were no student club activities and facilities such as libraries were also closed, leaving almost no opportunities for children to meet with others. While many children long to be reunited with their friends, those who have found it hard to fit in at school will sense the gap in excitement and enthusiasm between themselves and others, and will find it even more difficult to go back.


A child who was previously doing fine may have fallen into a predicament while they were away from school. Many families were forced into financial difficulties as the duration of school closures was extended, and there is also the stress of of not being able to go out due to requests for self-restraint. There is concern over an increasing number of cases of domestic violence against children.


Are they dressed properly? Do they appear to have had a sudden weight gain or loss? It is important for teachers, who are close to children in everyday life, not to overlook these signs of changes in them.


However, many teachers nowadays are extremely busy. In addition to dealing with measures to prevent infection, they must also find time to review class schedules and correct homework assignments. Some teachers may not be able to pay close attention to each child.


It is essential to increase the number of people who can watch over children with care by actively involving school counselors and former teachers. In addition to parents paying attention to their own children, local residents who are engaged in traffic safety activities along school routes should also be careful to see if there are any children who appear to be dispirited.


It is concerning that counseling services to which children can pour out their feelings have been recently declining. Mainly due to facility closures in response to requests for self-restraint, 80% of private organizations working on suicide prevention have been forced to either suspend or reduce their activities

Local governments need to cooperate in securing places for such activities, among other measures. Civil rights commissioners at regional offices of the Legal Affairs Bureau provide advice to children. It is hoped that both the public and private sectors will work together to improve the framework for watching over children.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 18, 2020.

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