National / Crime & Legal

Two former classmates ordered to pay ¥37 million in damages over bullied Japanese boy's suicide

JIJI, Kyodo

The Otsu District Court on Tuesday ordered two former classmates of a boy who killed himself in 2011 at the age of 13 to pay damages totaling about ¥37.5 million, recognizing that their bullying of the victim was the cause of his death.

“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 when handing down the ruling.

The boy, from Otsu, took his own life on the morning of Oct. 11, 2011, by jumping from the condominium where he lived. He was in his second year at a junior high school in the city.

The boy’s parents in 2012 filed a damages suit against three former classmates and their guardians, seeking a total of about ¥38.5 million on the basis that their son’s death was a consequence of their actions. The bereaved parents also sued the Otsu Municipal Government for damages.

During the hearing, the family argued there had been “harsh bullying,” saying the classmates had forced the boy to eat a dead bee and constantly told him to die.

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

The court rejected the plaintiffs’ demand for damages from a third classmate. It cannot be said that the other classmate had participated in the bullying in an integral manner alongside the other two students, the judge said.

The court also stopped short of recognizing breach of duty of supervision by guardians of the students.

The judge said that violence against the victim “started escalating” in the second semester of their second year of junior high school.

It was “foreseeable” that the boy might take his own life as he was made to feel a sense of helplessness and despair through repeated acts to pressure him psychologically, the judge said.

The entire ordeal had been long, the boy’s father told a news conference, adding that the family was satisfied with the ruling and that he was thankful many other former classmates gave evidence to help prove his son was bullied.

About a year after the victim’s death, local police referred two of the three students 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.

A third-party investigation committee set up by the city concluded in 2013 that bullying was the direct cause of the suicide.

In 2014, the Otsu Family Court acknowledged the allegation and ordered the two found culpable in this week’s ruling to be placed under the supervision of a juvenile probation officer, while exempting the third.

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.”

The bereaved parents and the municipal government reached a settlement in 2015, with the city agreeing to offer an apology and pay ¥13 million in compensation.

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

Bullying is a major social issue nationwide. Elementary, junior and senior high schools in Japan reported more than 410,000 cases in fiscal 2017. Ten of the 250 students who took their own lives had been bullied at school, according to education ministry data.