10 years after high-profile schoolboy suicide, more anti-bullying efforts urged

Oct. 11 marks 10 years since a second-year municipal junior high school student in Otsu committed suicide because of bullying. It is important to further strengthen preventive measures without letting the incident fade into oblivion.

The boy had been bullied by classmates, including being choked. At the time, his school and the board of education dragged their feet in dealing with the case, such as by finishing the investigation in a short period of time, despite acquiring information through questionnaires targeting all students that there had been bullying.

At the request of his bereaved family, the city government set up a third-party panel to reinvestigate the case and concluded that bullying had led to his suicide. It can be called a typical case in which the education field’s attitude of avoiding trouble and its culture of covering things up delayed efforts to reveal the truth.

In the wake of this case, the law to promote measures against bullying took effect in 2013. The law requires schools and boards of education to investigate such cases as there is a fear of great harm to children’s lives or physical or mental health, defining such cases as a “serious situation.”

In the 2019 academic year, the number of bullying cases confirmed at elementary, junior and high schools nationwide hit a record high of about 610,000. The increase is attributable to a growing number of local governments recognizing mocking and teasing as the early stage of bullying. It is significant that the law is being enforced.

However, challenges remain. According to tallies by local governments, the number of bullying cases per 1,000 students was about 260 in Niigata City, the largest figure in the nation, while some municipalities confirmed fewer than 20 cases. There must be a difference in perceptions of bullying.

It is hoped that the purpose of the law will become more widely known to the public in order to prevent signs of bullying from being overlooked.

In Machida, Tokyo, a sixth-grade elementary school girl committed suicide, leaving a suicide note that claimed she had been bullied. The city’s board of education set up a third-party panel and started its investigation into the case, but her bereaved family raised questions over the panel’s neutrality. As a result, the city’s mayor ultimately launched another independent committee.

Many bullying cases have run into trouble because the boards of education and schools are often seen as one and the same, and the bereaved families were not convinced by investigations by the boards. Isn’t it necessary to take measures to ensure that the wishes of the bereaved families are reflected in the selection of members of such panels?

In recent years, it has become difficult for adults to recognize bullying among children, as it takes such forms as posting abusive messages on social media. Digital devices have been distributed to elementary and junior high school students across the country, and such devices may have encouraged bullying in the Machida case.

It is hoped that schools and families give careful guidance to students about rules and manners from an early stage.

Bullying is a cowardly act that wounds the other person’s dignity. First of all, it is crucial to teach a commonplace norm of conduct that you do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 10, 2021.