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Friday, Nov. 28, 2008

An NGO reaches out to bullied foreign kids


Staff writer

KYOTO — Bullying is widely recognized as a problem affecting Japanese children. But non-Japanese kids and their parents who are also harassed can have a particularly hard time finding either sympathy or practical advice in their native language.

Now, the Gunma Prefecture-based nongovernmental organization Multilingual Education Research Institute is reaching out to non-Japanese parents and students throughout Japan, as well as to concerned Japanese who want to stop the bullying of foreign children.

The Ijime (Bullying) Zero campaign provides a number of services, including a telephone hotline and a Web page with advice in English, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish.

"No one in Japanese education is talking about the xenophobic aspects of bullying. There is a need to train people to be aware and to do something," said Cheiron McMahill, president of the International Community School in Tamamura, Gunma Prefecture, and head of the institute.

McMahill noted that while the government assists Japanese victims of bullying, there are fewer resources for foreign children in their native language. To fill the void, the institute is using its Ijime Zero campaign to offer three kinds of assistance.

First is a multilingual forum where foreign children and their families can disclose their concerns and help each other. Second, educators nationwide, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, who have foreign students can get information and assistance on dealing with bullies. Third, anybody who wishes may borrow, for the price of return postage, multilingual literature and DVDs on dealing with bullies. About 3,000 items are available for lending, McMahill said.

Nationwide, there are more than 25,000 foreign children in schools. The majority are believed to be Brazilians, followed by Chinese. Truancy among foreign children, who are often bullied because they are different or don't speak Japanese, has become a concern in recent years, especially in prefectures like Gunma and in the Chubu region where large numbers of foreigners reside.

Local governments and the central government both say more needs to be done to integrate foreign children into Japanese schools. But they are often at odds over what exactly should be done and who should take the lead. The central government has long urged local governments to do more, while cash-strapped local governments say there is little more they can do unless Tokyo formulates a national policy and provides funds for assistance.

Human rights activists note a fundamental reason for truancy among foreign children is that they are not required by law to attend public school, which means those who drop out due to bullying or other reasons are not legally obliged to return. The education ministry's position is that while public schools cannot turn away foreign children, they don't have to make sure they're in class.

"Revising the Compulsory Education Law to insure foreign children are covered is a top priority for Japan," McMahill said.

Last year, a government survey revealed that at least 1 percent of foreign children living in Japan did not attend school, but because the whereabouts of 17.5 percent of children in Japan registered as foreigners was unknown, the real truancy figure is probably much higher.

"The different languages that foreign children speak need to be seen as a resource for Japanese society as a whole, not as a problem to be solved. Having foreign children in the classroom helps Japanese children become more multicultural, and that will pay benefits for all when they grow up and go out into the world," McMahill said.

For more information on the Ijime Zero campaign and the kinds of assistance available to international parents and children, visit the Multilingual Education Research Institute's Web site at www.ijimezero.org



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