Human Rights Watch thanks the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) for the opportunity to give comment on revisions to the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying.
Human Rights Watch is an independent nongovernmental organization that monitors and reports on human rights in more than 90 countries around the world. Our first report concerning human rights in Japan was published in 1995 and since 2009 we have had an office in Tokyo. In 2015, we undertook a six-month research project on bullying and exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in Japan’s schools.
We published our findings in a 2016 report “The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down,” found at https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/05/06/nail-sticks-out-gets-hammered-down/lgbt-bullying-and-exclusion-japanese-schools.
Our research found that LGBT students in Japanese schools face physical and verbal abuse, harassment, frequent insults from both peers and staff. Hateful anti-LGBT rhetoric is nearly ubiquitous in Japanese schools, driving LGBT students into silence, self-loathing, and in some cases, self-harm. This means that LGBT children in Japan experience shame and stigma.
We also found that teachers are ill-equipped to respond to LGBT-specific bullying. Even when individual teachers or schools attempt to support students who request protection from sexual orientation or gender identity-based harassment, their response can be inadequate. This is because teachers are often ill informed about LGBT issues and ignorant of the specific vulnerabilities faced by LGBT children. Anti-bullying policies that enumerate the needs and vulnerabilities of LGBT students will change that by allowing teachers and school officials access to appropriate training, resources, and information.
We recommended that the Ministry specify categories of vulnerable students, including LGBT students, as part of the 2016 review process stipulated in the Bullying Prevention Act. We commend the Ministry for specifying “in order to prevent bullying toward students based on their gender identity disorder or sexual orientation/gender identity, schools shouldpromote proper understanding of teachers on gender identity disorder and sexual orientation/gender identity as well as make sure to inform on the school's necessary measures regarding this matter” in the draft policy. We recommend that this should be retained.
MEXT has been at the forefront of progress in the area of education-related rights for sexual and gender minority students. The 2015 MEXT directive sent to all school boards titled, “Regarding the Careful Response to Students with Gender Identity Disorder,” describes several accommodations schools should make regarding transgender students and also mentions “sexual orientation.” The 2016 MEXT “Guidebook for Teachers Regarding Careful Response to Students related to Gender Identity Disorder as well as Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” signaled an evolving view on LGBT rights and recommended several protective measures for LGBT students.
By amending the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include “sexual orientation and gender identity,” Japan’s government is taking an opportunity to bring its policies in line with its international human rights obligations. Japan supported two recent United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions on ending sexual orientation and gender identity-based violence and discrimination, and also co-chaired the 2016 UNESCO International Ministerial Meeting: Education Sector Responses to Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression. We encourage the Ministry to continue its commitment to making education accessible for all Japanese children by enumerating “sexual orientation and gender identity” in the revised policy.