Japanese police arrest 3 teachers in case of child abuse

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TOKYO — Police have arrested three teachers at a kindergarten in central Japan on suspicion they routinely assaulted toddlers, including hitting their heads, holding them upside down and locking them in a bathroom, in a case that has sparked outrage and allegations. caused by a cover. upwards.

Shizuoka prefectural police said they arrested three women on Sunday on suspicion of assaulting at least three toddlers in June at a kindergarten in Susono town at the foot of Mount Fuji.

Susono Mayor Harukaze Murata told reporters on Monday that he had also filed a criminal complaint against the school principal, Toshihiko Sakurai, for allegedly covering up the abuses. He urged the police to expand the investigation.

In June, one of the teachers is accused of holding a boy upside down. Another teacher pushed a girl in the face, according to police, and the third hit another boy’s head.

Their arrests followed Saturday’s police search of the private school in response to the city’s revelation last week of 15 cases of alleged abuse between June and August.

Results of an internal investigation revealed that the three teachers routinely abused toddlers in their care, including slapping their faces and heads, forcing them to cry, threatening them with a knife, verbally abusing the children by calling them “ugly” and “fat”. to call. lock them in a toilet or storage room, according to the municipality.

Murata, the mayor, accused the school principal of “covering up” by getting other teachers to sign a document asking them to hide the problem and delay explaining to the parents, calling his actions “appalling”.

The three teachers, all in their 30s, reportedly told investigators their treatment of the toddlers was “discipline”, while the principal said he had the document signed only to protect the privacy of those involved and denied trying to cover up the abuse.

The city has drawn public criticism for having been on the case for more than three months since a whistleblower first came forward in mid-August to expose “improper” matters at the school. Murata said he takes the criticism seriously and will accept a two-month pay cut, while also punishing three senior officials.

Separate investigations into possible abuse are ongoing in two other kindergartens.

In Sendai, northern Japan, officials are conducting an internal investigation into allegations that children had to remove their underwear during meals to avoid getting their clothes dirty. At a school in another town in northern Toyama, police are investigating teachers on suspicion of locking crying children in a storage room or poking a stick in their backs to order them to move.

Experts say kindergarten teachers are often low paid and schools are chronically understaffed and work environments are harsh.

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