The search for a boy who disappeared after his parents reportedly left him in a Japanese forest as punishment has continued into a fifth day.
Yamato Tanooka, seven, has been missing since Saturday, when his parents said they made him get out of their car as punishment for misbehaving, leaving him behind in a wooded area on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island.
Police said more than 180 rescuers, including defence troops, were searching on Thursday, focusing on the area where the boy was believed to have been dropped off.
There have been no signs of the boy or any eyewitness reports of him, according to police. Bears are sometimes seen in the mountains of Hokkaido, but an attack by one of the animals is unlikely because none has been spotted in the area, police said.
The boy’s mysterious disappearance has captured national attention, with many praying for his safe return, while others have bitterly criticised the parents, triggering a debate over whether their treatment of the boy was discipline or child abuse.
Police said the parents said they made the boy get out of the car as “discipline”, after changing their earlier story that he disappeared while picking wild vegetables. The father said the boy was gone when he returned to the site several minutes later, police said.
The parents reportedly told police that they had punished the boy for throwing rocks at people and cars while playing at a river earlier in the day.
Police said they are considering whether the parents should be charged with child abandonment.
“Making children obey by giving them fear or pain is bad parenting,” Naoki Ogi, a professor of education at Hosei University, said in his blog. “It’s abuse.”