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What is JaSPCAN?

Most people are probably wondering what JaSPCAN is and what it stands for. It is an acronym for Japanese Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, a name that is based on the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect or ISPCAN.

At the request of Dr. Michiko Kobayashi, and Dr. Satoru Saito, who are currently serving on the board of JaSPCAN, I took the initiative in starting a research group in April 1996 that was the precursor of this Society founded ten years later. I have since stepped down as chair of the Society, a position that is now occupied by Dr. Michiko Kobayashi, who is also an important figure on the cutting edge of pediatric medicine at the Osaka Medical Center and Research Institute for Maternal and Child Health.

The first case of child abuse that I encountered was in the United States when I was an intern on night duty in the emergency room. It was November 1954. Although the mother claimed that the infant had fallen off the bed, the infant had battered child syndrome with both new and old fractures. It made me wonder why such a horrible thing would happen in the United States, a rich nation that had been the victor in the war, and moreover, was a Christian nation. It was different in nature from the abuse that takes place in a poor society.

In the 1960s, Dr. Henry Kempe, an American pediatrician, identified such cases in pediatric medicine as an illness, which has become what is currently called "child abuse (maltreatment)." In other words, the different forms of abuse such as physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, etc., were brought together under one concept. Thinking about it, we can only say that the cause is unknown, but it does appear to be related to something instinctual in human beings.

The programs of the emotions are located in the limbic system or the biologically and evolutionarily old part of the brain. Looking at the evolution of the brain, these programs are thought to have evolved to reinforce and promote the operation of the programs of survival, along with the instinctual programs of the hunger and sex drive. The programs of the emotions include the programs of anger and anxiety to overcome competition as well as those of love and gentleness to produce offspring and conduct collective life. As evolution progressed, the programs of reason and intellect were formed in the neocortex. They began to control the basic drives and these emotional programs, a development to which our rich civilization and culture are attributed. In the case of parents who abuse their children, the programs of reason and the intellect become unable to control the programs of emotions, and this results in child abuse. In one sense, we can say that programs of the emotions are destabilized, and this causes the program of adaptable behavior to malfunction.

I believe that what we at CRN call Child Science is necessary to solve the problem of child abuse. Perhaps this is the reason that members of JaSPCAN currently come from so many diverse fields: medicine, social welfare, education, psychology, law, the legal profession, law enforcement, etc. This makes JaSPCAN a truly interdisciplinary, trans-disciplinary society that bridges the humanities and the sciences. For us, child abuse is at the top of the list of child issues and we believe that it can only be solved with the approach of Child Science.

I am pleased to say that JaSPCAN has grown five-fold in the past decade to the current membership of about 2,000. The largest percentage, almost 30%, comes from the field of health and medicine, with doctors accounting for more than half. This is followed by members working in social welfare, who account for over 20% of total membership, and those in the education field who represent a little under 20%, and then psychology and law. Geographically, a large percentage of members are based in Tokyo and Osaka, which each accounting for about 15%. This reflects the fact that the non-governmental organization that played a central role in establishing JaSPCAN began in Tokyo and Osaka. Dr. Satoru Saito, a psychiatrist, and Dr. Michiko Kobayashi, a pediatrician, were active in Tokyo and Osaka, respectively.

It is often doctors and others in medical field who are often responsible for taking action against the problem of child abuse. In the United States, Dr. Kempe played a leading role, and in Japan, psychiatrists were central in this effort, beginning with Dr. Yoshiko Ikeda and Dr. Satoru Saito in the early 1970s. Subsequently, pediatricians naturally became involved and reported such forms of illness as maternal deprivation syndrome and neglect.

JaSPCAN's first general conference was held in Tokyo, later in Osaka, Yokohama, Wakayama, Utsunomiya, Nagoya, Kobe, Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Sapporo, and last December, in Sendai, just to name some cities in no particular order where meetings have since been held. JaSPCAN has set up an NPO in Sendai to deal specifically with child abuse, but it seems that little progress has been made. This was a key concern at the conference in Sendai where JaSPCAN's officers had hoped to find ways to make it more effective. Next year's conference will be held in Tsu, Mie prefecture. We all sincerely hope in some way to be able to eradicate child abuse from our society.
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