Japan Considering Zero Tolerance Legislation to Combat Bullying Rise

Legislation outlining a zero tolerance policy on bullying is being considered in Japan after a thirteen year-old boy was driven to suicide by classmates, reports Justin McCurry in the Christian Science Monitor.

The young boy, named Hiroki, jumped off the fourteenth floor of his apartment building after being subjected to daily verbal and physical abuse from his classmates. His teachers only issued a verbal warning to the offenders, which did nothing to stop the bullying.

This type of bullying is seen as a ‘rite of passage' in highly competitive Japanese school systems, but as Hiroki's case shows, it can lead to tragic consequences.

And data shows that bullying in Japan is on the rise:

"Statistics on school bullying vary, but new official data reveal a worrying trend. Regional legal affairs bureaus in Japan responded to a record 3,988 cases last year, an increase of more than 20 percent from 2011, the justice ministry said. The national police agency, meanwhile, said it had investigated 260 cases of school bullying in 2012, well up from the 113 cases in 2011."

At the end of June, the pending legislative fix will be voted on as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's aggressive education reform efforts.

The legislation requires outside parties to address bullying cases where a student's life is in jeopardy. Police are to investigate any situation where there is an alleged crime, and guidance will be given to both the victims and perpetrators.

Teachers are encouraged to assert more control and to suspend bullies, and parents and teachers are to report any case of bullying to school authorities. There will also be a moral education class introduced into elementary and middles school curricula that the bill's authors hope will reverse the troubling trend of increasingly-common bullying.

Critiqs say that due to the environment of the schools, not much is likely to change. In Japan's high-pressure, high-achievement education system, teachers can be reluctant to report bullying because they are afraid to be seen as incompetent. The bill does not address the pressure of academic and conformity or the problems that impersonal, overcrowded classrooms can create.

"Mr. Naito, who has spent decades studying bullying, says an improvement in bullying statistics is unlikely without practical changes to the school environment. He describes Japan's schools as "untouchable communities" where students have no choice but to be there. "In an environment where students are forced to spend almost all their time together, they live under their own set of rules that aren't always acceptable in society," he says. "Students are forced to follow the pack, to think the way everyone else is thinking.""

05 14, 2013
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