The number of crimes against children, including murders and sexual assaults, declined slightly in Japan last year but remained at disturbingly high levels, the Justice Ministry said yesterday.
A series of attacks on young children late last year -- including the killings of three school girls in less than a month -- rocked society and shocked many parents into keeping a closer eye on their kids, fearing they too could become victims of crime.
"The number of violent crimes against children has [given rise to] great concern in society and is something that must be given great attention," the Justice Ministry said in this year's annual report on crime.
In one of the most high-profile cases last year, first-year elementary school student Airi Kinoshita was sexually assaulted and strangled by a Peruvian immigrant, who then dumped her body in a cardboard box close to his apartment.
The case horrified Japan, where relatively low crime rates mean young children have long been allowed to make their way home from school alone. Jose Torres Yagi was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime in July.
Overall, the number of children under 13 murdered in Japan last year dipped to 105 from 111 in 2004, down from a record 121 hit in 1998 but still one of the highest levels of the last decade.
The number of reported rape cases involving children was 72, down from 74 the previous year.
Overall crime rates continued to decline for the third consecutive year, with the number of penal code offences known to police falling by 8.8 percent, to 3,125,216 cases among Japan's 127 million people.
The ministry said it remained concerned by the recidivism rate of sex offenders. Of those released in 1999 and followed for five years, 39.9 percent were arrested again on some charge.
Japanese police last year started holding information on the addresses of those who had served prison terms for sex crimes involving children.
Meanwhile, Japan's Education Ministry received a letter believed to be from a student who warns he plans to kill himself because of bullying at school, prompting officials to investigate, news reports said yesterday.
The letter was addressed to Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki and delivered on Monday by mail, Kyodo News agency reported. But it could have been from a boy in elementary school or junior high school, judging from its handwriting and content, the report said.
The sender said classmates told him he is "gross" and pulled his trousers down but that his teacher did not intervene, Kyodo said.
The reports followed a recent string of suicides by children who claimed they had been bullied at school.
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