Incidents in which students tormented by school bullying commit suicide are not being seriously dealt with. There has been a spate of cases in which irresponsible actions taken by education boards and schools have stoked public mistrust.
A typical example is the suicide of a third-year girl at a municipal junior high school in Toride, Ibaraki prefecture, in 2015. The prefectural government is establishing a new committee to investigate the case. This unusual step was taken in response to calls from her bereaved family, which said it cannot trust the city’s board of education.
The law to promote anti-bullying measures classifies bullying that is suspected to have inflicted serious harm to a person, either mentally or physically, as a “serious case,” and obliges an institution that establishes the school and others to investigate.
The student wrote in her diary: “I don’t want to be bullied.” Her parents were told by their daughter’s classmates that they had witnessed her being bullied. It was inappropriate for the local board of education not to have recognized the case as serious. It is only reasonable that the city’s investigation committee has disbanded following guidance from the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.
To avoid repeating such a calamity, the new committee — to be set up possibly this autumn by the prefectural government — should make a determined effort to investigate the case, by taking such measures as questioning her former schoolmates, who have now graduated from the junior high school.
In the suicide of a second-year student in April at a municipal junior high school in Sendai, it was found that the boy had received corporal punishment from two of his teachers. A female teacher stuck adhesive tape on the boy’s mouth, and on the day before his death, a male teacher hit him on the back of the head with his fist. Through the school’s own inquiry, which involved questioning all the students, it was also discovered that the boy was abused by more than one student.
A law enacted in the wake of the bullying-induced suicide of a student in Otsu in 2011, to eliminate a culture of cover-ups among local boards of education and schools, has not permeated sufficiently. The education ministry has compiled past examples of serious cases, but the important thing is a change in the thinking of boards of education.
Also essential is establishing a mechanism to identify bullying cases at an early stage.
It is important not to be a spectator when encountering bullying: Let teachers and parents know about such incidents. After the summer vacation, teenage suicides tend to increase. Adults must always keep an eye on how children behave.