By Michael Gillan Peckitt
In Suita, Osaka
In June 2013, the Diet of Japan passed a law regarding fair treatment of disabled people. The new law was a step towards something similar to the bystander laws of France, wherein if you suspected a disabled person was being abused, you have to report it to the police. This law paves the way for Japan to be a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a convention more than 130 countries have already ratified.
On Monday 11th November 2013, the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry of Japan released a survey on the abuse of disabled people in Japan.
The survey concluded that 1,329 disabled people were abused by 1,527 family members including siblings in a total of 1,311 cases. It was found that physical violence was used in 790 cases while 277 cases were caused by neglect and abandonment. According to the survey, 176 disabled people were believed to be mistreated by care workers from a set of 80 cases. Of these, 97 had intellectual impairments, 70 were cognitively impaired and 35 were physically disabled. Three cases resulted in the death of the victim.
The Ministry of Welfare had already stipulated in June 2013 that 194 disabled people suffered abuse at the workplace in the second half of 2012. Now they say that of the abuse enacted by care workers, 46 were cases of physical abuse, 42 were of psychological abuse and 10 of sexual abuse. Some victims have experienced all categories of abuse.
I have cerebral palsy, specifically, left-sided spastic hemiplegia. If you met me, you would see that I walk with a limp and use a walking stick, usually held in my right hand. My condition is not terminal, in fact, it did not inhibit my journey to Japan, where I now live with my wife in Osaka. A Google search reveals that out of at least 63 million people that live in the UK, I am one of the 11 million disabled people who, formerly in my case, live in the UK.
I have no similar figures for Japan. I am sure such a census has been taken but I cannot find it, at least not regarding the disabled population of Japan. This is the first time such a survey has been carried out, according to Kyodo News, which is in itself troubling. I can tell you that at least 126 million people live in Japan, and at least 8 million of those live in Tokyo. Quite frankly, you would expect the figures to be higher. Even if we took the half year figure, assumed it was a trend for the full year, and rounded it up, 3,010 cases of abuse by family members seems low. The same is true, if we assumed the workplace abuses were representative for a full year making the total number of cases 388.
Some may say that I am just being cynical, that maybe Japan is different; it’s another country, that we do things differently here. Maybe things are better here. I am happy to report that things are good here. We have more disabled toilets than you can shake a stick at (pun intended), and we have yellow lines with grips to guide the vision impaired (and it’s quite useful for people with walking sticks) down the street or to a train. But despite Japan’s relatively sound record on disability, I regret to inform you that the Japanese people are still human. They fear danger and the unknown in the same way as non-Japanese. Even if I wished it, believing that the world is better here in Japan does not make it so, because along with the human trait of fearing the unknown, phenomena such as abuse of disabled people is also to be found in Japan.
I fear these statistics of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare may be inaccurate, at the very least too low. One would expect the numbers in Tokyo at least, to be higher. I do hope the Ministry will repeat the survey in six months time.
Michael Gillan Peckitt, lives in Suita, Osaka where he is an academic philosopher and lives with his wife Minae. Writing mainly on disability issues, Michael has been published in the UK ‘Disability Now’ and runs the Japan and Disability related blog ‘The Limping Philosopher’ http://thelimpingphilosopher.wordpress.com/ and makes YouTube videos about living in Japan.
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