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Japan: Corporal Punishment in Schools

(Apr. 12, 2013) <?Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) issued a new circular on March 13, 2013, that prohibits physical punishment of students at schools and provides examples of what constitutes prohibited corporal punishment. (Taibatsu no kinshi oyobi jido_ seito rikai ni motoduku shido_ no tettei ni tsuite [Regarding a Thorough Understanding of Prohibition of Corporal Punishment and Verbal Instructions to Pupils and Students [hereinafter the Circular], 24 Monka-sho No. 1269, Mar. 13, 2013.) Issuance of the new Circular was prompted by a case in which a high school boy killed himself after he was subjected to harsh physical punishment at a public high school in Osaka in December 2012. (“Pen nagetsuke” wa taibatsu: monkasho_, zenkoku kyo_i ni tsu_chi [“Throwing a Pen” Is Physical Punishment: MEXT Sent a Circular to Education Committees Nationwide], NIKKEI (Mar. 13, 2013).)

Physical punishment in schools has been prohibited by law since 1879. (Education Order 1879, art. 46.) The current School Education Law also prohibits physical punishment. (School Education Law, Act No. 26 of 1947, last amended by Act No. 61 of 2011, art. 11.) However, not all punishment involving the use of physical force against students is regarded as illegal corporal punishment. Case law has not established a clear distinction between permissible punishment that involves physical force and illegal physical punishment. It may depend on the circumstances of each case. (Hidehiko Nagao, “Taibatsu” gainen no konmei[Confusion on a Concept of Physical Punishment], 44-3&4CHU_KYO_ HO_GAKU [CHUKYO LAW REVIEW] 185, 186 (2010).)

The Circular tries to make that distinction clearer in order to prevent illegal physical punishment, but at the same time seeks to avoid the creation of a chilling effect on teachers’ giving of appropriate punishments to students. Under the Circular, for example, a series of acts of grabbing the shoulders of a student, pushing the student’s body against a wall, and forcing the student to stay beside the wall when he/she has violated a rule and then tried to run away, despite a teacher’s instruction to stay and listen, is not deemed to be illegal corporal punishment. (The Circular, Attachment.)

The physical punishment in the Osaka suicide case took place during an after-school sports club practice. The meting out of physical punishment during such after-school activities has been accepted more widely than punishment administered during school hours, especially when the club has a winning record. (Richard Parker (pseudonym), Right or Wrong, Corporal Punishment Can Produce Winners, JAPAN TIMES (Mar. 12, 2013).) The Circular specifically mentions after-school club activities for the first time and confirms that physical punishment is not allowed during such activities. (The Circular, § 5.)