More than 1,000 elementary and junior high school students remain unaccounted for nationwide, raising concerns that some might have been involved in foul play.
In fiscal 2011, the number of children unaccounted for shot up to 1,191, from 326 the previous fiscal year, after the education ministry called for thorough investigations.
Boards of education compile lists of school-age children in their municipalities based on residential registrations. If children are not located for one year or longer, their whereabouts are recorded as “unknown.”
In many cases, boards of education lose track of children when parents fleeing from violent spouses or debt collectors move out without taking their certificates of residence.
Still, education officials are worried that some children may not be receiving compulsory education after they have moved.
“The current method cannot shed light on children whose lives are at risk," said Masateru Iwaki, director of the Japan Child Abuse Prevention Citizen Network. "It does not allow us to distinguish between children involved in foul play from those unaccounted for as a result of domestic violence or flight from creditors.
“A framework should be established other than certificates of residence to keep track of information on (school-age) children in a comprehensive manner, much as the maternity health record book system (does for infants).”
In April 2011, the education ministry called on boards of education to track down children unaccounted for in cooperation with local welfare commissioners and child consultation centers.
On April 12, the city of Tondabayashi, Osaka Prefecture, said a 9-year-boy has been unaccounted for since he was an infant. Police are looking for the boy.
Many of his relatives told city officials that they do not know where he is. But none had asked police to search for the boy.
The board of education could not locate the boy before he was scheduled to enter elementary school in April 2009. His great-grandmother, under whose certificate of residence he was listed, told the board that his father said the boy was in a children’s nursing home.
The board allowed the boy to be admitted to a local elementary school for one year. The boy never attended the school, and the board listed the boy as unaccounted for in April 2010.
In August 2011, his great-grandmother asked the city hall to remove the boy from her certificate of residence because he was not living with her. The city investigated for the first time where the boy was, but his whereabouts remain unknown.
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