The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers might have about the role of independent committees in cases of suicide due to schoolyard bullying.
Question: Independent committees are in the news whenever suicides induced by schoolyard bullying occur. What are they?
Answer: An independent committee is something that is set up by boards of education and schools to investigate the causes of suicide and whether any bullying took place. It also recommends ways of preventing repeat cases. The system was introduced after a junior high school and a board of education in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, were accused of covering up the facts concerning the suicide of a male second-year junior high school student in the city in October 2011. In order to conduct a fair and neutral investigation, external "third party" members are assigned to the committee, and the board often consists of experts such as lawyers, across a wide range of fields.
Q: Apparently some families ask for a second investigation. Is this true?
A: Yes, this does happen. In 2017, second investigations were approved in relation to the suicides of a male first-year junior high school student in Tohoku, Aomori Prefecture, and a second-year junior high school boy in Sendai. The second investigation is usually conducted by a different committee set up by the mayor. As was seen in the cases of Rima Kasai, a female second-year junior high school student in Aomori, and Naoko Nakajima, a third-year junior high school girl in Toride, Ibaraki Prefecture, committees sometime disband before the investigation report is finished.
Q: Why do second investigations occur and committees disband?
A: Factors include families losing trust in the independent committee or not being satisfied with the content of the investigation report. The main reasons are: the committee not recognizing the stance of the victim by dismissing the claims of bullying made by the child who took their life; and putting the suicide down to numerous factors such as the family environment, the victim's personality and illness -- thereby concluding that there is an insufficient connection between the bullying and the suicide. In the case of Kasai's suicide, the draft report implied that the suicide was due to adolescent depression -- which caused Kasai's family to lose trust in the committee and its investigation.
Q: Is there a method that would suit all parties?
A: Families want to know "what happened regarding my child?" Unless the independent committee looks into how the bullying started and worsened, and also examines why the school and educational authorities failed to stop the bullying, there will be no effective preventative measures. (Answers by the Aomori Bureau)