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(Tokyo, March 24, 2017) – Japan’s updated national bullying prevention policy will for the first time protect sexual and gender minority students, Human Rights Watch said today. The measure will boost Japan’s reputation regionally and internationally on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

These comics tell the stories of specific individuals Human Rights Watch interviewed, using their own words to describe their experiences. In a few instances the artist added language to provide necessary context. © 2016 Taiji Utagawa

“Japan’s new policy on bullying is an important step toward ensuring equal access to education for all Japanese children,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “The government is demonstrating leadership in educating and empowering teachers to protect LGBT students.”

The updated Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying, which the Education Ministry revised on March 14, 2017, mandates that schools should prevent bullying of students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity by “promot[ing] proper understanding of teachers on…sexual orientation/gender identity as well as mak[ing] sure to inform on the school’s necessary measures regarding this matter.” The policy follows a 2015 directive from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) regarding transgender students and a 2016 MEXT guidebook for teachers about LGBT students.

A 2016, Human Rights Watch report found that LGBT students in Japanese schools face physical and verbal abuse, harassment, and frequent insults from both peers and staff. Hateful anti-LGBT rhetoric is nearly ubiquitous, driving LGBT students into silence, self-loathing, and in some cases, self-harm.

Human Rights Watch also found that Japanese teachers were ill-equipped to respond to LGBT-specific bullying. Even when individual teachers or schools attempted to support students who requested protection from harassment over their sexual orientation or gender identity, the response could be inadequate. Teachers were often ill informed about LGBT issues and unaware of the specific vulnerabilities faced by LGBT children.

Another important step will be to amend the Act on Special Treatments for Persons with Gender Identity Disorder, which regulates legal recognition of transgender people. Current Japanese law contains a number of requirements that violate fundamental human rights protections, and affect transgender children. For transgender students in Japan, simply attending school can be an ordeal. National law mandates people to obtain a mental disorder diagnosis and other medical procedures, including sterilization, to be legally recognized according to their gender identity – an abusive and outdated procedure.

The current momentum in the Japanese political discussion on LGBT issues promises further reforms, Human Rights Watch said. The government should take this opportunity to ensure that the needs of LGBT youth are included in the policymaking process and that all students in Japan can access education on an equal footing.

“Japan’s support for two recent United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions on LGBT rights and co-chairing the 2016 UNESCO conference on LGBT bullying should be points of pride for the government,” Doi said. “By amending the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include sexual orientation and gender identity, Japan has taken the crucial step of bringing its own policies in line with its international human rights obligations.” 

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