OTSU–The Shiga prefectural police plan this week to start questioning students who claim to have witnessed the bullying of a 13-year-old middle school student who killed himself in October, according to investigative sources.
The police will primarily interview 116 students who wrote their names on a questionnaire about bullying distributed at the boy’s school by the Otsu Municipal Board of Education in October.
In light of the mental strain of being interviewed, police are considering interviewing the students at their homes. They also plan to question the three classmates of the boy against whom his father has filed a criminal complaint over the bullying.
The questionnaire was distributed to about 860 students at the municipal middle school he attended on Oct. 17, six days after the boy committed suicide. A total of 283 students–167 anonymously–responded.
Students’ comments on what they heard or witnessed included “the boy was physically assaulted by being kicked and punched” and “the boy was forced to shoplift and practice committing suicide.”
The father of the boy filed a criminal complaint Wednesday against the three alleged bullies on six counts–assault, extortion, intimidation, coercion, theft and property destruction.
If necessary, police plan to collect information from students other than those who put their names on the questionnaire.
Police hope to clarify the whole picture, including the possible illegality of abusive actions, a causal relation between the bullying and the suicide, and whether the municipal board of education and the school responded appropriately in the case.
In response to a separate civil lawsuit filed earlier this year by the boy’s parents, representatives of the alleged bullies claimed their actions constituted “not bullying but pranks.”
The three classmates who have been accused by the boy’s father were 13 or 14 years old at the time of the alleged bullying. Minors aged 14 or older can face criminal charges, while minors under 14 are exempt and corrective measures are decided after a child consultation center is notified of their cases or they are sent to one.
However, offending minors 12 or older may be sent to a juvenile reformatory.
Ikuzo Maeno, professor emeritus at Kwansei Gakuin University, said, “The police should try to ease the mental burden on students by interviewing them at home in the presence of their parents, as being questioned by police is an extremely unusual experience for them.”
Maeno, an expert on criminal policy and the Juvenile Law, also said students should only be interviewed once and the interviews completed during summer vacation so they would not cause further problems at the school.
“Some sort of emotional support may also be needed,” he said.
Ministry to set up team
The education ministry will create a special team tasked with helping schools combat bullying, education minister Hirofumi Hirano said Sunday.
“Instead of just waiting for reports [from schools about bullying problems] and leaving specific steps up to teachers and school officials, our ministry should have a team dedicated to working with them,” Hirano said on an NHK program.
Hirano made the statement in reference to the October suicide.
Hirano said the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s plan to conduct an emergency fact-finding investigation about bullying at primary and middle schools should cover not only public schools but also private ones.