The Self-Defense Forces will introduce on Sunday stricter punishment standards for power harassment and bullying.

Behind the moves are concerns that an increase in power harassment and bullying could tarnish the image of the SDF, affecting efforts to recruit new members as a result.

The number of cases in which punishments were imposed due to power harassment or assault in the SDF and the Defense Ministry rose to 159 in fiscal 2018 from 121 in fiscal 2013.

Power harassment and bullying cases are increasingly coming to light following the launch of a related consultation office and the changing mindset of those who join the armed services, an official at the ministry’s personnel education bureau said.

Recruitment of new members has been below desired levels for five straight years since fiscal 2014. In fiscal 2018, the number of SDF candidates was about 30 percent below target.

There is a possibility young people are shunning the SDF due to the image that it is an organization where corporal punishment is tolerated, analysts said.

Under the new rules, SDF members who cause injuries through power harassment that require a month or more to heal will either be dismissed in principle or suspended from duty for six months or more. This is harsher than the current penalty, which is a suspension lasting 16 days or more.

The suspension period for those who cause injuries that take from a week to less than a month to heal will be extended to at least three months, compared with the current six to 14 days.

But offenders will be given lighter penalties that do not include suspension from work in cases in which he or she verbally and physically berated a victim only once in incidents where the victim was showing a rebellious attitude.

“There has been a view that the current punishment criteria are lenient,” Defense Minister Taro Kono told a news conference on Friday.

“It’s important to set (strict) rules in order to encourage young people to join the SDF without worry,” he added.

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