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Saturday, July 14, 2012

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Teen tragedy: Police visit a junior high school in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, on Thursday to investigate a 13-year-old boy's suicide. KYODO

Bullying a crime that goes noticed, ignored

Otsu boy's suicide came after repeated calls for help, father told


Staff writer

Police are finally investigating the suicide of a 13-year-old boy last year in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, for evidence of bullying, but another father whose son took his own life believes it is too little, too late and doubts the government is taking such tragedies seriously.

"We must be aware that (bullying) is a crime," Hideaki Osawa, whose son, Hidetake, killed himself in 1996 after being harassed and extorted by his classmates, told The Japan Times on Friday.

"It is unacceptable for the teachers and the board of education to claim that there wasn't any bullying or that they weren't aware of it."

The case of the Otsu student, who jumped off a 14-story building last October, has grown into a major scandal as details of his ordeal have slowly surfaced. Last February, his parents filed a damages suit against the city of Otsu and the classmates who allegedly abused him, claiming the suicide was caused by the bullying.

Reports claim the boy's classmates routinely forced him to "practice" killing himself, while the school buried student surveys suggesting that bullying routinely occurred in its classrooms. Meanwhile, the students implicated in the abuse claimed in a separate survey conducted after his suicide that they were "glad" the victim took his own life, according to the Sankei Shimbun.

Despite the evidence, Otsu's board of education has only admitted that the bullying "was one of the reasons" behind the student's suicide.

"I feel that the school and the city are trying to suppress the scandal," Osawa, 68, said of the Otsu tragedy.

Osawa noted the case is similar to his own son's suicide in 1996, when he only learned afterward that the boy had consulted one of the teachers about the beatings he received from classmates. However, the school claimed it was clueless as to why he killed himself.

Osawa's son left a note apologizing to his parents before taking his own life, and in addition to detailing some of the physical abuse he suffered at the school, he wrote that his tormentors had extorted more than ¥300,000 from him.

"I was asked for more money. But I don't have any, so I will die," he wrote.

Osawa, who now heads an Oita-based nonprofit group for families whose children have killed themselves because of bullying, visited Otsu last week and met with the boy's parents. Local police had rejected three official complaints filed by the father, so Osawa advised him to contact the Shiga Prefectural Police instead.

"This resulted in the police inspecting the junior high school Wednesday," nine months after the boy's suicide, Osawa said.

He said the Otsu case is a further indication that schools and local governments try to conceal inconvenient truths, and urged bereaved parents to continue to seek out what really happened to their children, even if it means approaching senior officials.

At the same time, Osawa said authorities should make far greater efforts to prevent student suicides, rather than just examining to what extent bullying may have been a factor.

On paper, bullying in schools has been on the decline in recent years. According to statistics compiled by the education ministry, there were 101,097 reports of abuse in elementary, junior high and high schools in 2006, but the number fell to 84,648 the following year and to 75,295 in 2010.

However, many point out that the number of reported cases is just the tip of the iceberg.

On Sunday, a high school student in Miyazaki Prefecture was reportedly forced to attempt to drown himself in a local river by his friends, who filmed the entire scene with a mobile phone. The boy survived.

Other reports Thursday said that nine junior high school students in Aichi Prefecture had formed a "union to kill a classmate," and were continuously harassing a fellow student to this end.

Curbing the disturbing trend may appear complicated, but the first step is simple in Osawa's opinion.

"Things will only change drastically if teachers acknowledge that bullying is going on" in their classrooms, he said. "The abuse worsens only because it goes unnoticed during the initial stages."


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