A team of lawyers has released the results of its survey on alleged child abuse by members of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group in Japan.
The team held a news conference in Tokyo on Monday. It provides legal support to former members of the group as well as to children of its members.
The lawyers conducted the survey, following the publishing of the health and welfare ministry guidelines last year about child abuse related to parents' religious beliefs. A total of 560 people responded.
The survey shows 81 percent of the respondents said they had cards indicating they desired to refuse blood transfusions.
The ministry's guidelines state that parents' refusal of medical treatments for children on religious grounds amounts to neglect --- a form of abuse.
The lawyers said investigations are necessary to find how many people died from refusing blood transfusions, and how many of them were children.
The survey also shows 92 percent of the respondents experienced whipping, 96 percent were banned from school activities, and 93 percent were forced to limit their human relations.
The lawyers said many of the children experienced physical and mental abuse, which afterward led to problems such as loneliness, sense of alienation and a lack of self-esteem. They pointed out such people are also facing economic problems due to limitations of their education and job opportunities.
The lawyers are asking the religious group to explain the government's guidelines to all of its followers and urge parents to avoid child abuse. They stressed they have no intention to prohibit individuals' freedom of belief or boost prejudice or discrimination against the group's members.
Ahead of the news conference, the lawyers visited the Children and Families Agency to submit a petition for an investigation by public authorities. The petition asks authorities to determine if the religious group can be put under an order of removing its religious corporation status. It also calls on the authorities to consider regulating abuse by religious and other organizations outside children's homes.
One of the lawyers, Tanaka Kotaro, said he wants society to be aware that the children have lost their spirit and are suffering a great deal of psychological pressure. He called for a change in the situation where long-term abuses deprive children of spirit.
Asked about the survey results, Jehovah's Witnesses told NHK that it never tolerates child abuse in any form. The group said it had consistently advised parents to teach and discipline their children in a loving manner in harmony with what the Bible teaches.
The group also said the survey was based on responses from a small number of people, compared to roughly 214,000 followers in Japan and about 8.7 million globally. The group concluded that it should be impossible to see the whole picture from the answers of a limited number of people who have negative feelings.
Meanwhile, Children's Policy Minister Kato Ayuko said that child abuse is definitely unacceptable even if there is religious belief in the background. She added that she hopes to make a compilation of consultations about child abuse by the end of March, and then discuss how to tackle the issue.