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Bullying of Kurdish students at Kawaguchi schools a growing problem

A map of Kawaguchi in Saitama.

KAWAGUCHI, Saitama -- Incidents of bullying against Kurdish pupils living in this town, home to the largest population of Kurds in Japan, have intensified to the point that some students are staying home to avoid classmates.

Currently stateless, many of the Kurdish people living in Japan are of Turkish nationality. Of the around 2,000 living in the country, about 1,500 reside in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, and its surroundings. Over 300 of those are of junior high school age and under, with schools and locals called upon to address their difficulties in the area.

A Kurdish girl, 12, at an elementary school in the northwestern part of the city was bullied to the point that she stopped attending classes and chose a junior high school in a different area after graduating.

According to a local support group, students subjected her to maltreatment including an incident last year when classmates locked her in a school toilet. In another case this year she was knocked over by a boy while playing soccer during a P.E. class and kicked in the back in a classroom, which led her to stop attending school from February. Families of students who committed the acts offered apologies and money for medical treatment, but amid disagreements about the proposals a settlement was not reached.

A sixth-grade Kurdish student attending the same school told the Mainichi Shimbun about his experiences. "I've been bullied since the second grade. Sometimes students kick me from behind and pretend it was an accident. There are times when I've not wanted to go to school," he said. An 8-year-old third-grade girl spoke about being picked on too. "I felt sad because they say nasty things to me. I want it to be a school where there's no bullying."

Supporters say the municipal government should investigate the school's response to the girl's bullying as a serious case in accordance with the Act on Promotion of Measures to Prevent Bullying. The school says it immediately convened an anti-bullying committee and did its own investigation after the incidents came to light. It says, "We are continuing to work for a settlement between both parties. To stop bullying, we want to promote people's understanding of international affairs and deepen collaboration with communities in the area."

Hidenobu Matsuzawa, 70, is the head of a support organization for Kurdish people, which is based in the prefectural capital Saitama. "Many Kurdish children experience bullying here in some form. If they don't understand Japanese and therefore can't convey their thoughts clearly, it's easy for bullying to develop. Lack of knowledge regarding customs, culture and community life here can lead to misunderstandings and prejudice," he said.

When asked about how schools are handling the problem, Matsuzawa said, "I want to see schools treating Kurdish pupils as they do other pupils, not as special cases, and creating an action plan from there. It's important for all classmates to understand the issues together."

(Japanese original by Tetsuo Tokizawa, Kawaguchi Local Bureau)

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