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70% of local bodies in Mainichi survey admit suspected school-bullying suicides

Forty-five out of Japan's 47 prefectures and 20 major cities, or 70 percent, have witnessed "serious incidents" in which bullying-induced suicides are suspected since the bullying prevention law came into force in September 2013, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

In the survey, the Mainichi Shimbun sent a questionnaire to the heads of the 67 local bodies about suspected bullying-induced suicides at prefectural and municipal schools, and has received responses from 65 of them, excluding the governor of Fukuoka Prefecture and the mayor of the city of Hiroshima.

The law aimed at preventing schoolyard bullying requires boards of education and schools to set up a third-party inquiry panel in the event of serious incidents including suspected bullying-induced suicides.

In the survey, these 45 local governments said they set up third-party panels to investigate into such cases, but eight, or nearly 20 percent, said separate inquiry bodies were established at the instruction of their mayors or governors to reinvestigate these cases.

In a case where a 17-year-old student at an Aomori prefectural high school killed herself in 2014, a third-party panel set up by the prefectural education board denied the direct causal relationship between bullying and her suicide. After the governor instructed a reinvestigation at the request of the girl's parents, however, a causal relationship between the bullying and suicide was confirmed to a certain extent. Similar cases where reinvestigations reversed the initial conclusions by third-panel inquiry have been seen in other prefectures.

With regard to desirable investigative organizations, 27 respondents, or 42 percent of the total, chose third-party panels set up by schools or education boards as stipulated under the current law. These respondents cited the need to ensure the independence of educational administration and other reasons. Another eight pollees, or 12 percent, selected a nationwide third-party body instead of the current municipality-based inquiry panels, or third-party panels set up by mayors or governors independent of education boards.

Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai, who selected third-party panels set by governors or mayors, said the possibility cannot be ruled out that bullying will be covered up within boards of education.

Only one respondent supported the idea of allowing bereaved families and others close to students to participate in third-party bodies or attend deliberations at such groups. Twenty-two respondents, or 34 percent, pointed out that such participation by bereaved families is not desirable even though it is important to show consideration to their requests.

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