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Ready and Willing to Ensure Child Safety

In two separate incidents in November and December of last year in Hiroshima and Tochigi prefecture, two first-grade girls were murdered on their way home from school (Note: 1). In Japan, children are not taken to school or picked up by their parents; most go in the company of other children or alone. But with the rash of crimes targeting children as they go between home and school, parents are now very concerned about how to ensure their children's safety.

In a survey conducted in October 2005 by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, Sports, and Technology, parents/guardians felt that ensuring children's safety should be given the highest priority by the local community. While about seventy percent gave top priority to safety, only thirty percent ranked socializing with children of different ages and learning local history and culture to be most important. The results clearly indicate that safety was by far the greatest concern of parents.

After the two incidents, a variety of measures were taken to protect children between home and school. These can be classified into five types: 1) parents drop off and pick up children; 2) children travel in groups; 3) teachers meet children near the school 4) adults guard points along the school route; and 5) children carry crime prevention buzzers. Regarding 4), parents either take turns guarding points along the school route, or in many cases, retired senior citizens in the community volunteer to do this, and the above survey results reflect this practice.

After the two girls were murdered, the press received a number of letters that expressed heightened concerned for safety. One letter suggested that walking and running should be activities conducted while children go to and from school as way of protecting them. Nevertheless, not all of these measures, including those above, are easy to maintain, and many tend to be discontinued with time.

According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, Sport, and Technology analysis of the survey results, if measures to ensure safety can be specified, communities will very likely come together to implement them, but would this really happen? It appears that the national government is expecting this to be handled by regional and local governments. The problem is, however, that these are not administrative bodies and have no legal power to arrest, detain or take other legal measures against a suspect. Nor it is their duty to cooperate in guaranteeing the safety of the children. This means that any such measures would lack enforceability.

Some school bags now come equipped with a crime prevention buzzer and a global positioning system (GPS) that keeps track of the child's whereabouts with a PC or mobile phone. They are somewhat more expensive, but it is not possible to put a price tag on children's safety. How long will this concern of parents continue? Even though parents are not in the habit of taking their children to school and picking them up, we may have to change this if necessary. Without the willingness and readiness to change society, practices, and established systems, will it be possible to ensure children's safety? We need to be ready to learn the situation that other countries face and how they are dealing with it.

Note 1: Crimes against elementary school children in the first half of 2005 totaled 10,953, including 13 murders, and accounted for 1% of all crimes.
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