JAPAN - A law to promote measures to prevent school bullying took effect on Saturday, and local governments and schools are expected to take new steps, including investigating bullying incidents.
The law, passed by the Diet in June, defines bullying as "something that students perceive as causing them physical or psychological pain."
This means that under the law, bullying includes malicious Internet posts and ostracizing someone in an outrageous manner, in addition to physi-cal violence such as beating and kicking.
The new law requires boards of education and schools to set up investiga-tive bodies when suspected cases of serious bullying occur. However, it stopped short of requiring third parties to join the probes.
A supplementary Diet resolution to the law calls for the participation of independent figures to ensure fairness and neutrality. However, the resolution has been criticised as insufficient by some, including families of students who committed suicide due to bullying.
An expert panel for the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which discusses basic guidelines aimed at helping local governments devise specific anti-bullying measures based on the law, has put off compiling such guidelines before the law took effect, as panel members were divided over how to ensure the neu-trality of investigative bodies. The panel reportedly intends to work out the guidelines and present them to boards of education across the nation in early October.
Govts perplexed by delay
Ahead of the anti-bullying measures law taking effect on Saturday, some lo-cal governments have already taken action on their own against bullying. For instance, in the wake of the suicide in 2011 of an Otsu middle school boy who had been bullied, the Otsu city government launched an anti-bullying committee comprising professors, lawyers and others in April this year.
If a serious bullying case occurs, the panel, independently of the city's board of education, looks into the case. While the establishment of such a standing committee is optional under the law, the city's panel holds a weekly meeting to look into reported bullying cases and take necessary steps, such as giving advice.
Otsu Mayor Naomi Koshi said: "There are limits to how boards of education alone can handle bullying cases. We need rules that require the establishment of a third-party body that is independent from schools and the educational board."
The municipality of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, also set up such a standing committee in July.
Panel members, including lawyers and university teachers, are tasked with interviewing people involved and instructing schools to implement countermeasures if necessary.
However, many local governments appear to be waiting for the education ministry's basic guidelines to be unveiled before making significant moves such as revising their ordinances.
As the ministry has postponed the formulation of the guidelines until next month, some municipal officials and others in the education field have expressed confusion over the situation.
"We're making preparations to set up a third-party body, but it's difficult for a city to work alone without national basic guidelines," said a Sendai board of education official.
The father of the Otsu student said at a press conference held in the city Friday, "I'm aware of [the ministry's] stance of trying to have thorough discussions on the guidelines, but I hope they will be drawn up soon for children who are being affected by bullying."