The Yomiuri Shimbun There is no end to the bullying of children who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture due to the nuclear power plant accident.
Widely and properly conveying the experiences of people from affected areas likely will help to eradicate prejudice and a lack of understanding on this issue.
Last month, the drama club of Futaba Future School, a Fukushima prefectural high school, performed a self-produced play in Tokyo. Some lines from the play — “People said they would catch radiation off me,” and “Since the disaster, I’ve been putting on a forced smile” — were based on the actual experiences of the students.
This high school was established in the town of Hirono, which is within a 30-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, in the spring of 2015. Many of its students were people who had evacuated to other parts of Fukushima Prefecture or elsewhere in Japan when they were in elementary or junior high school.
The script also contains the hurtful experiences of bullying revealed by a number of the students. The play portrays how after the disaster, abusive language directed at evacuees was widespread in many places, and the children endured this without being able to speak up for themselves.
The appearance of high school students expressing their post-disaster emotional turmoil and hopes through the play should have become a chance for many people to carefully consider the current situation in Fukushima.
The bullying of evacuees became a major public issue following revelations of a case in Yokohama in November. Classmates of a male student who moved to the city forced him to pay for their leisure activities because they said his family “must have received government compensation” related to the nuclear disaster. It is undeniable that the prejudice of adults around these classmates toward evacuees has possibly influenced their behavior.
Teachers have key role
According to a survey conducted by prefectural boards of education and other bodies, at least 44 cases of bullying that targeted children and students who evacuated to outside Fukushima Prefecture have been reported across the nation.
Of these cases, seven were confirmed to be connected to the disaster, with the victims being told things such as, “You’ll pass radiation on to me so don’t come near me.” Cases from the current academic year are among them.
At an elementary school in Niigata city, a teacher added the word “germ” to the name of an evacuee student when addressing him. This occurred after the Yokohama case had been exposed. His comment can only be described as incredibly insensitive for a teacher.
About 9,000 children under the age of 18 who evacuated from Fukushima still live outside the prefecture. Their lives as evacuees are becoming increasingly established.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to specify in its basic bullying prevention policy that consideration must be given to children and students living as evacuees.
It is essential that teachers share information and look after children at school. Regional consultation services also need to be set up to ensure parents do not become isolated.
At municipal Kisai Elementary School in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, an after-school study program for child evacuees that started soon after the disaster is still being held. On Friday, a teacher dispatched from Fukushima Prefecture will attend a grade-level assembly and speak about the recovery of Fukushima and provide information about radiation.
Observers have also pointed out that providing improved disaster-prevention education will heighten interest in disaster-hit areas. Steady efforts should be continued to root out bullying.