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More child suicides amid pandemic in Japan prompt calls for greater awareness

Shikou Ishii, editor-in-chief of "Futoko Shimbun," is seen at a news conference at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Aug. 19, 2021. (Mainichi/Kohei Chiwaki)

TOKYO -- A nonprofit organization that publishes a newspaper specializing in school absence issued an urgent appeal saying that children who don't want to go to school are sending out an SOS in light of the worsening situation of suicides among elementary, junior high and high school students as the coronavirus continues to spread.

    The appeal by Tokyo-based "Zenkoku Futoko Shimbun Sha," which publishes the newspaper "Futoko Shimbun" focusing on children who refuse to attend school, targets all adults involved with children, including family members and teachers, and calls for measures to be taken in accordance with the "TALK principle" to protect children's lives.

    The principle is an acronym for "Tell" (verbally express concern for the child), "Ask" (openly ask about the child's feelings of wanting to die), "Listen" (listen to the child's feelings), and "Keep safe" (ensure the child's safety), and is recommended in suicide prevention responses.

    The period around the end of long vacations usually sees an increase in the number of child suicides, so we need to be especially careful. At a news conference held at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on Aug. 19, Shikou Ishii, 39, editor-in-chief of "Futoko Shimbun," said, "Children send out an SOS in various ways, such as with their words, their physical condition, or their inability to complete homework. I hope that those around them will notice any unusual behavior and listen to them carefully."

    According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the number of suicides among elementary, junior high and high school students in 2020 increased by 100 from the previous year to 499, the highest number ever recorded.

    Since June of last year, when schools reopened after being closed due to the coronavirus, the number of suicides has risen significantly every month compared to the previous year. The same situation continued in the first half of this year, although the figures are provisional. As a cause, the education ministry has pointed out the impact of social unrest caused by the pandemic.

    (Japanese original by Kohei Chiwaki, Tokyo City News Department)

    -- If you want to talk about bullying at school or other problems, contact the following numbers.

    24-hour Child SOS Dial: 0120-0-78310 (English service is available on Fridays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.)

    Human Rights Counseling for Foreigners: 0570-090911 (Weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except year-end and New Year holidays)

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