The bullying in Yokohama of an elementary school student who was evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture following the March 2011 nuclear disaster highlights an apathetic attitude on the part of school officials and the municipal board of education. They deserve severe criticism for their inaction and lack of awareness of the difficulties faced by Fukushima evacuees. Behind the bullying was the prejudice held by some students against evacuees from the areas impacted by the disaster’s radiation fallout. It is easy to imagine that similar bullying is happening in other parts of Japan against children of similar circumstances.

The bullies’ attitude towards Fukushima evacuees can likely be attributed to the prejudice and misunderstanding that adults around them have about the prefecture and its residents. It is important for adults to have an accurate understanding of what has happened in Fukushima so they can properly educate their children on the issue. Parties concerned, including the national and local governments, should make serious efforts to disseminate proper information about Fukushima and the hardships that evacuees have endured.

Soon after the boy moved to the school in Yokohama as a second-grader in August 2011, some classmates started to call him names such as “germ.” Then they began to physically assault him. The next year the bullying got so severe that he didn’t attend school from June till October. When he returned, the bullying resumed and in 2014 escalated to the point where some classmates began to extort money from him.

The boy said that in demanding the money, the classmates told him his family must have been given compensation for damage from the nuclear disaster — a statement that demonstrates a callous attitude toward those who experienced severe suffering as a consequence of the three reactor meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. In total, his classmates extorted about ¥1.5 million (US$216,000). Because of the persistent bullying, the boy refused to go to school throughout fiscal 2015, when he was in the sixth grade.

It is reported that when the boy was in the second and third grades, his homeroom teachers told his tormentors to stop the bullying, but the school did little else to help him. In a note about the situation, the boy wrote, “I appealed to teachers many times, but they did not believe me. [...] They ignored me.”

His parents told authorities at the school and the Yokohama Board of Education in 2014 about the bullying and asked them to take proper action. The school held meetings of teachers concerned and questioned the boy’s classmates, but it did not take further action on the grounds that the testimonies by the boy and his classmates did not match and it was impossible to determine if he had been bullied.

The school officials’ inaction is deplorable given the severity of the bullying and the fact that the boy repeatedly asked teachers for help. Moreover, they failed to follow a requirement under the 2013 law to combat bullying that a school must form a third-party panel for investigation should “serious situations” of bullying develop.

The school’s inaction prompted the parents to report the money problem to the police. But even after the police — based on their interviews with the boy and the bullies — told the school that he paid them ¥1.5 million, the school would not act and turned down a request from the parents to hold a meeting of people from both the victim’s and the bullies’ sides. The board of education took no action, either.

The parents eventually asked the board of education last December to take action on the basis of the 2013 law’s provision. This month, a third-party committee accordingly formed issued a report that determined the bullying against the boy began soon after he moved to Yokohama and condemned the school and the board of education, stating that their attitude was tantamount to “abandonment of education.”

The slow response of the teachers at the school and board of education officials demonstrates their lack of empathy towards the boy and other people who have experienced great suffering. They should be the first to be educated about the plight of Fukushima residents. The Yokohama case also suggests that parents should not hesitate to rely on lawyers and the police if school officials and boards of education are unresponsive to their complaints about bullying.

The News Lens has been authorized to republish this editorial. The original can be found here.

Editor: Olivia Yang