News and Insights

Pamphlets on Abuse Point to Abusive State

Japanese pamphlet

Controversial pamphlets on abuse distributed in Japanese schools bear the hallmarks of abusive state giving itself excessive powers.

by Matthias Stephan and Knut Holdhus

MEXT becoming organ of abusive state
Symbol of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan. Photo: 文部科学省 (MEXT Japan) / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int

Several organisations within the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) have sparked controversy by the content in pamphlets distributed to educate children in primary, middle and high schools about child abuse. Although the aim is to promote awareness and reporting, the contents have sparked a heated debate over their impact on religious freedom, especially for certain religious organisations already being persecuted by the authorities, like the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

Bitter Winter exposing forcible detentionBitter Winter, the online magazine for human rights and religious freedom, reported about it on 8th March 2024 in an article by Dr. Massimo Introvigne, the Italian sociologist of religion who is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on religious freedom and human rights. See the Bitter Winter article.

The illustrated pamphlets, issued by the Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau and other departments under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), have caused concern because they define “child abuse” broadly, encompassing aspects of conservative religious upbringing. While they don’t mention any particular religious groups, certain passages in the content seem to hint at practices often linked with organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Family Federation.

While the pamphlets echo the guidelines provided in the “Q&A on Handling Child Abuse and Similar Cases Related to Religious and Similar Beliefs” by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2022, critics contend that the expansive definitions of abuse found in both the pamphlets and the guidelines may lead to unintended consequences. These critics fear that such broad definitions could encroach upon the rights of religious groups and their followers.

Massimo Introvigne writes about dangerous precedent
Dr. Massimo Introvigne, april 2023. Photo: FOREF

Introvigne writes that the meaning of the pamphlets,

“is, in certain parts, obscure but becomes clearer when one compares them to the ‘Q&A on Handling Child Abuse and Similar Cases Related to Religious and Similar Beliefs’ published at the end of 2022 by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. In fact, these ‘Q&A’ were sent to all boards of education in Japan and it is in accordance with them that schools began distributing the illustrated pamphlets on child abuse.

These ‘Q&A’, as a well-known journalist specialized in Japanese issues, Leo Lewis, noted in the Financial Times, were clearly designed to ‘break down’ the Unification Church and prevent it from passing its faith to the next generations. However, whoever drafted them also took into account post-Abe-assassination attacks against the Jehovah’s Witness and conservative Christian groups. As Lewis concluded, ‘in its rush to enact something, Japan has skipped some extraordinarily nuanced theological questions and created potential trouble for a much larger circle of organizations and activities than it has bargained for.’”

A major point of contention regarding the pamphlets is their portrayal of specific religious practices as abusive. For instance, children are cautioned against “forced participation in religious activities” and being subjected to threats like “You will go to hell if you do certain things.” Certain actions having eternal consequences, is a trait commonly found in religious teachings. This characterization raises concerns about parents’ freedom to impart their religious beliefs to their children without state interference or fear of consequences.

The Bitter Winter article points out,

“The most bizarre and alarming references in the pamphlets are those regarding as ‘abuse’ telling children that if they ‘do or don’t do’ certain things they ‘will go to hell’. This is a very common teaching in conservative Christian churches and in other religions as well. Although perhaps less fashionable now, Christians of my generation remember how parents, as well as priests and pastors at Catholic Catechism or Protestant Sunday School did tell children that those who commit serious sins go to hell.

Dante's Inferno
Soon to be forbidden in Japanese schools? Here a poster for the film Dante’s Inferno (1924) by Henry Otto. Photo: Henry Otto / Wikimedia Commons. Public domain mage

If instilling the fear of hell is a form of ‘child abuse’ perhaps Dante’s ‘Comedy’, with its graphic depictions of hell, should be forbidden to minors in Japan, and Japanese travel agents should not take families with minors to the famous Medieval Cemetery of Pisa or to countless European cathedrals whose frescos or paintings show how devils will torment the sinners in the afterlife (Buddhist depictions of Cold Hells are not less terrifying, by the way). Both the Vatican-endorsed Catholic catechism for children YOUCAT and countless teaching aids for conservative Protestant Sunday Schools do teach that hell exists, is ‘horrible to contemplate’ (YOUCAT, no. 53), and that those who commit serious sins and do not repent may end up there.”

Dr. Massimo Introvigne points out another pecular aspect of the pamphlets,

“Children are also told in the pamphlets that they should be alert and report those who ‘show them materials that contain sexual expression that are not appropriate to your age.’ A casual reader may believe this is about pornography or adult magazines, but a look at the controversies in the Japanese media on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and conservative Christian groups after the Abe assassination helps understanding that the reference is really to Biblical stories about adultery and other sexual sins and the corresponding illustrations in Christian publications.

Obviously, not all Biblical accounts are appropriate for a five-year-old, while in 2024 no 17-year-old minor would be scandalized by them. It is also paradoxical that these comments are made in Japan, a country that has been repeatedly at the receiving end of criticism by the United Nations agency for the protection of children UNICEF for the large circulation and availability to minors in the country of comics and cartoons with inappropriate sexual content. Yet, religions and the Bible are singled out here.”

Furthermore, the pamphlets have come under fire for including references to activities such as missionary work and religious confession as potential forms of abuse. While these references aim to protect children from harm, they risk stigmatizing longstanding religious practices and undermining the autonomy of religious institutions in Japan.

For organizations like the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, these pamphlets pose significant concerns. Amid accusations of financial exploitation and questionable practices, the categorization of conservative religious activities as “child abuse” raises fears of discrimination and persecution.

In response to these concerns, advocates for religious freedom have urged a reassessment of the pamphlets’ content and distribution. They argue that while safeguarding children from abuse is crucial, it should not infringe upon the fundamental right to practice religion without fear of state interference or censure.

As the debate unfolds, the Family Federation and other religious groups in Japan are closely monitoring the situation, mindful of its broader implications for religious freedom and autonomy. In a society that values diversity and tolerance, the state interfering with how parents raise their children, seems like a direct attack on religions diversity and tolerance. It certainly is odd that bureaucrats in the state administration know better how to raise children than religious parents. Religion is being treated as something dangerous.

This definitely brings up the issue of an “abusive state” that gives itself powers to forcefully remove children from their parents on the pretext of “protecting the children” from what anti-religious elements within the state administration claims to be abuse. Such as teaching your kids that hell exists. Where then is the state’s tolerance and diversity? Is Japan becoming an abusive state?

Featured image above: From the cover of a pamphlet used in Japanese schools. Photo: Bitter Winter

“Pamphlets on Abuse Point to Abusive State” – text: Matthias Stephan and Knut Holdhus

More about abusive state: Author: Japan’s “Apartheid-Style Social Exclusion”

Yet more about abusive state: Inhuman Government-Supported Mass Deprogramming

Still more about abusive state: Collusion to Rob Minority of Its Rights

Even more about abusive state: State and Media Creating “Today’s Non-Citizens”

And yet more about abusive state: Lawyers Using Witnesses under Duress

And still more about abusive state: Japan Criticized for Glaring Rights Violations

And even more about abusive state: Police Turns Blind Eye to Forcible Detention

More about abusive state: Gross Human Rights Violations in Japan

More about abusive state: Kishida Has Opened Can of Worms


Send us a message

Post Form