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The tragic cases that have led to Japan deciding to ban physical punishment of kids.

“Please, please, please forgive me. I will make sure I can do more things tomorrow than today without Daddy and Mummy needing to tell me what to do.”

Yua Funato was just five years old when she died in March last year in Tokyo. She weighed only 12kg. Investigators say she had frostbite marks on her feet and bruises on her head.

Her stepfather, Yudai, and mother, Yuri, were arrested over her death. Investigators say the stepfather punished the little girl by pouring water on her or beating her to instill “discipline”, if he felt she had broken the family rules.

A notebook was found in the family’s apartment. Yua had been practising her writing in it.

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“Really, I will never repeat the same things,” she had written. “Forgive me. I will correct what I was unable to do yesterday and what I have done every day.

“I am sorry that I played so much like a fool. I will stop doing a foolish thing like playing. I will never ever do that. I do promise.”

Yua’s tragic death and her written pleas for forgiveness rocked Japan, and led to calls for the government to do more to stop child abuse.

In January this year, the death of another Japanese girl, 10-year-old Mia Kurihara, made the headlines. Mia had written in a school questionnaire more than a year ago that her father, Yuichiro, was hitting and bullying her. She was sent to a child welfare centre, and then to a relative’s house. Mia’s father managed to get her returned home when she wrote a letter saying she had lied in the questionnaire. But Mia later told a child welfare centre worker that her father had made her write the letter.

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On the night Mia was found dead on the bathroom floor of her home, she had allegedly been punished by her father for more than 13 hours straight. She had bruises on her body, and had allegedly been deprived of food and sleep.

“This was discipline,” Mia’s father is reported to have told police.

Both Mia’s father and her mother, Nagisa, were arrested.

In response to the public outcry over Yua’s and Mia’s deaths, Japanese media is now reporting that the government is planning to ban physical punishment of children.

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Parents, foster parents and welfare workers will no longer be allowed to physically punish children as a means of discipline. The law will also be changed to ensure that children will be separated more promptly from abusive parents.

More than 50 countries around the world have already banned smacking or other physical punishment of children. Experts have long warned of the blurry line between physical punishment and child abuse. Research has shown that children who are spanked by their parents are at significantly increased risk of being physically abused by their parents.

In Australia, Associate Professor Susan Moloney has said that many homicides of children are the result of physical punishment going wrong.

“The defence that parents [who accidentally kill their children] use is that they were just trying to discipline them,” she told the ABC.

Obviously child abuse is a complex problem, and no law is going to stop it. But this new law in Japan will be a start towards changing people’s attitudes to physical punishment of children.

If it means that even a few less children suffer in the name of “discipline”, then Yua’s and Mia’s deaths won’t have been entirely in vain.

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