Japanese sitting style to be recognized as punishment under new law

A welfare ministry panel said Tuesday that forcing children to sit for long periods of time in the formal Japanese seiza style will be recognized as a morally unacceptable form of punishment under a new law that will enter into force in April.

The panel has been compiling guidelines following a revision of the child abuse prevention law in June in response to a number of fatal cases in which parents or guardians physically abused children in the name of discipline.

The seiza style — in which a person kneels on the floor and sits back resting their buttocks on their heels with the tops of their feet flat on the floor — is a traditional way of sitting on tatami mats and is often practiced at formal ceremonies or when visiting temples, but it can be painful over long periods of time.

Under the new guidelines “punishments that inflict bodily pain or cause uneasiness” will be discouraged, regardless of how light they are or whether the parents believe them to be disciplinary.

The guidelines also list beating or spanking as unacceptable punishments.

In March 2018, 5-year-old Yua Funato died in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward after writing desperate pleas for her parents to stop hurting her.

Her stepfather, Yudai Funato, told a court he started assaulting Yua out of frustration over his unsuccessful attempts to discipline her. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in October for physical abuse and neglect.

But the new law enacted in the wake of that case sets no penalties for offenders, and there is a debate over whether Japan should maintain a civil code provision that grants the custodians’ right to discipline their children.

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