Japan’s government last week enacted a bill that forbids bullying at elementary, junior high and senior high schools, in the attempt of stopping the serious increase of bullying cases that have occurred in the country.
The law was voted in favor by the ruling coalition and other opposition parties at a plenary session in the upper house, according to the international press.
According to the new bill, bullying that leads to serious physical or mental trauma to children or makes them be absent for a long period of time is defined as a “serious case”.
Under the law, schools are required to report confirmed serious cases to the education ministry and local government. Next, the case is to be investigated by the school and education boards to obtain details.
A growing number of suicides by students in Japan and inadequate attempts by schools to address the issue have prompted the drafting of new legislation to help teachers spot and prevent bullying in schools.
The education ministry is also considering setting up permanent investigation teams throughout the nation to look into suicide cases involving school children. A common theme in the legislation and ministry committee debates is the need for more independent experts apart from the school to be involved in identifying the causes of bullying and suicides and measures needed to prevent them.
The issue has drawn renewed national attention following a 2011 case in the western city of Otsu in which a 13-year-old boy killed himself after being repeatedly bullied by three classmates. The Otsu Board of Education was criticized for turning a blind eye to the boy’s plight and conducting a careless investigation after the fact. For months the board even denied that bullying was linked to the boy’s death. In February, Otsu city officials formally admitted that bullying contributed to the suicide, according to local media reports.
Suicides among students up to high school age increased by nearly 30% in 2011 from the previous year, according to the latest data available from the education ministry.
Japanese responded to record numbers of severe bullying cases last year, prompting a national outcry and calls for legislation. But a proposed bill doesn’t address schools’ intense culture of conformity, critics say.
After months of relentless bullying at the hands of three classmates, 13-year-old Hiroki issued what must have seemed like an empty threat to his tormentors. “I’m going to die,” he told them in a text message. “You should die,” was their response.
In the month before his death, verbal taunts escalated into punching and kicking; his arms and legs were bound and his mouth taped. He was made to eat dead bees, shoplift, and even “rehearse” his own death. When his teachers were finally informed, they issued only a verbal warning.
Soon after, the teenager, identified in the media only by his first name, jumped to his death from the 14th floor of an apartment building in Otsu, western Japan, in October 2011.