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Japan to subsidise GPS device to protect children from kidnappers

A rural Japanese city is planning to subsidise the purchase of GPS devices for children to protect them from kidnappers. The subsidies will be available for 2,700 pupils at primary and junior-high schools, aged six to 15, in the city of Murakami, some 300 kilometresmiles) north of Tokyo, where a 15 year-old girl was kidnapped on her way home from school last month. The abduction made headlines in Japanese national papers as the girl, Chisato Togashi, was found with minor injuries at the home of Jun Kondo, 26, in a town on Sado Island, some 100 kilometres from Murakami, 11 days after she disappeared.

“We have been thinking of ways to bolster safety measures for children since the case … as many of them go home alone, walking through the middle of rice paddies,” said Kenkichi Kimura at the city’s education board. “This is such a rural place and personal alarms often prove useless when you do not see other people around,” he said.

The GPS system uses a pager-sized device to be carried by children, enabling them to signal emergencies while allowing parents to track them down via home computers and other means. The service normally costs 5,000 yen (45 dollars) in a one-off subscription fee plus the monthly charge of 980 yen.

The city plans to offer 300 yen per child to subsidize the subscription fee.

“The assistance is small but we hope security companies will offer a discount,” Kimura said, noting the city was negotiating with two major security companies in the private sector for a contract.

The city hopes to start the programme in late December.

Police arrested Kondo on September 14 for kidnapping a minor in connection with Togashi’s disappearance. He was suspected of deliberately bumping into the girl from behind with his car. He allegedly bundled her onto the backseat of his car after tying her hands and feet when he took the car ferry to Sado Island. In another case, in Sanjo City, some 80 kilometres away from Murakami, a man kidnapped a nine year-old girl in 1990 and kept her imprisoned for more than nine years at his house. The Japanese Supreme Court in July upheld a 14-year prison sentence for Japan’s “House of Terror” kidnapper, Nobuyuki Sato, 40. The ordeal of the girl, who has not been identified, only came to light in January 2000 when health officials were called to the man’s home by his mother who told them she was struggling with her violent son. The girl was 19 when she was found.