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Japan court orders ex-classmates to pay for bullying-induced suicide

Father of a junior high school student who killed himself in 2011 wipes tears from his eyes at a press conference in Otsu on Feb. 19, 2019. (Kyodo)

OTSU (Kyodo) -- A Japanese court on Tuesday ordered two former classmates of a junior high school student -- who killed himself in 2011 -- to pay damages totaling about 37.5 million yen ($338,500), acknowledging that their bullying led to his death.

The focal point of the trial at the Otsu District Court was whether they had bullied the 13-year-old boy, and if there was a causal link between bullying and his death.

The bereaved family had claimed the boy was driven to death by bullying and sought a total of 38.5 million yen from three former classmates and their parents.

However, the court denied the third former classmate was liable to pay compensation, citing his lack of involvement. As for the defendants' parents, it found no breach of supervisory duties.

"The assault by the two former classmates had escalated and as the student's relations with friends collapsed...he felt a strong sense of isolation and started to think he wanted to die," Presiding Judge Shigeyasu Nishioka said in handing down the ruling.

During the hearing, the family argued there had been "harsh bullying," with the former classmates forcing the boy to eat a dead bee and constantly telling him to die.

The defendants admitted some actions they were accused of by the family, but claimed they had thought they were just playing together.

In October 2011, the boy jumped to his death from a condominium building where he lived in the western Japanese prefecture of Shiga.

The high-profile case led Japan to enact a law in 2013 obliging schools to set guidelines to prevent bullying.

In Japan, bullying is a major social issue. Elementary, junior and senior high schools in Japan reported more than 410,000 cases in fiscal 2017. Ten of the 250 students who committed suicide had been bullied at school, according to education ministry data.

"It was long," the boy's father said in a press conference, adding the family is satisfied with the ruling and that he is thankful many other former classmates gave evidence to help prove his son was bullied.

Local police referred two of the three former classmates to prosecutors for alleged assault while sending the third boy -- who was 13 at the time of the abuse and thus exempt from criminal prosecution -- to a child welfare center, about one year after the victim's death.

In 2014, the Otsu Family Court acknowledged the allegation and ordered the two found culpable on Tuesday to be placed under the supervision of a juvenile probation officer, while exempting the third.

In 2012, the family filed a damages suit against the local government and the former classmates with the district court.

The city of Otsu accepted its culpability for failing to prevent the suicide and reached a settlement with the family in 2015, paying 13 million yen in damages.

The city's education board initially found no connection between the suicide and bullying, but some students were later found to have stated in a school survey that the boy was told to "practice killing himself."

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