Of the unknown number of children who have been bullied for being from Fukushima Prefecture, where a nuclear disaster is still ongoing at a power station six years since its outbreak, one boy who evacuated to Yokohama was bullied and extorted by his classmates of 1.5 million yen in total.
Now in his first year of junior high school, the boy wrote when he was in sixth grade, “My classmates said, ‘You get compensation, right?’ That annoyed me, but I was frustrated with myself for not standing up against them.”
Ironically, news reports say that because the family voluntarily evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture, they are not eligible for the high levels of compensation from the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), that some victims are entitled to receive.
Those who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture due to the nuclear crisis can be largely categorized into two groups. The first are those who were forced to leave their homes under evacuation orders from the central government, because they lived in areas where annual cumulative radiation levels exceeded 20 millisieverts, or otherwise faced extenuating circumstances as determined by the state. Such people receive a certain lump sum from TEPCO as compensation.
The second group comprises people who lived in areas with radiation levels that did not prompt government evacuation orders, but who evacuated voluntarily out of concern for the health of themselves and their children. As a general rule, these people are not eligible for compensation from TEPCO.
In the case of forced evacuations, TEPCO conducts individual interviews with evacuees to assess the value of their property and homes. But this is strictly to compensate for the assets that people have lost.
What has often attracted attention but remains commonly misunderstood, is the monthly 100,000 yen per person that evacuees are said to be receiving as compensation for emotional suffering. Those who evacuated without orders to do so from the government are not eligible for this, either.
Meanwhile, the provision of compensation for emotional suffering to state-ordered evacuees whose homes are in areas where evacuation orders are set to be lifted will be stopped in March 2018. Whether or not such evacuees will return to their homes in Fukushima Prefecture once the no-go orders are lifted, they face the harsh reality that they will be cut off from government assistance. The government is rushing to rebuild infrastructure, and appeal to the world that they are lifting evacuation orders. But whether to return or to relocate is a difficult decision, especially for families with children.
People who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture have not only been exposed to radiation, but to prejudice and misunderstanding regarding compensation that they may or may not have received.
The false rumor that compensation recipients are enjoying the high life from compensation payments has spread. We can’t deny that some probably indulged in the momentary influx of money and bought property or a fancy car. But because of that, the internet has been teeming with rumors that compensation recipients are tax thieves or calls for them to go back where they came from. And there’s no doubt that such a backdrop of online defamation and scandalmongering emboldened the children who bullied the boy in Yokohama.
The truth is, the family of the boy in Yokohama had evacuated Fukushima Prefecture voluntarily. They received a little over 1 million yen from TEPCO, but the parents said in an interview with an NHK new program, Close Up Gendai, that the money was put toward rebuilding their lives. Voluntary evacuees are exempt from paying rent due to the Disaster Relief Act, but many must restart new lives amid unstable finances.
The abovementioned boy moved to Yokohama with his family when he was in second grade. Shortly thereafter, classmates called him by his name, with the word for “germs” added on to the end. He soon found himself the victim of physical abuse such as hitting and kicking, and once he reached fifth grade, classmates demanded he give them money.
“I was so scared I didn’t know what to do,” the boy wrote. He stole from his parents and gave away a total of 1.5 million yen.
His parents, and other parents of children at the school who realized that something was going on, alerted the school. The school conducted an investigation, but took the bullies’ claims that the boy had given them money willingly at face value, and did nothing to remedy the situation for two years.
I, too, only learned the truth about the case just recently, but I believe the school’s misguided judgment was likely based on ignorance and prejudice toward compensation given to Fukushima Prefecture evacuees.
The boy’s mother had been traveling back and forth between Yokohama and Fukushima. He knew how much his parents were struggling, so he remained silent about the bullying.
What moved the case into a new direction were notes the victim had written in the summer of sixth grade. A message calling on bullying victims not to kill themselves also written by the now first-year junior high school student who attends an alternative school, was also released to the public.
Compensation is given to some victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But there is still too little compassion toward and understanding of the various misunderstandings, discrimination and divisions that disaster victims face.