Wooki KIM, Discrimination against Korean school children in Japan today

Oct 11, 2014

On 29 August this year the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which is under the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) made rulings on Korean schools in Japan. It said ‘The committee encourages the state party [Japan] to revise its position and allow Korean schools to benefit, as appropriate, from the High School Tuition Support Fund, as well as to invite local governments to resume or maintain the provision of subsidies to Korean schools.’

Korean schools in Japan were established after the liberation of Korean people from colonial rule by Japan in 1945. The schools were established to educate Korean children in Japan who had been deprived of their Korean name, language and culture by Japan. It is estimated that at that time there were 525 Korean schools all over Japan and approximately 44,000 Korean children attended those schools. Today there are about 70 schools from kindergarten to university with approximately 8,000 students.

In April 2010 the government of Japan introduced the Tuition Fee Waiver Program which would waive tuition fees for high school education. It was planned to include not only Japanese public and private schools, but also foreign schools in Japan that are accredited as ‘miscellaneous schools’ under the School Education Act. It was the first chance for all Korean schools that were accredited as ‘miscellaneous schools’ to be granted subsidies by the central government of Japan.

However, the government started the program without applying it to Korean schools, because of the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s by DPRK. This amounted to using Korean children as political pawns between Tokyo and Pyongyang. The Abe Government decided to completely exclude Korean schools from the program by changing the legislative provision of the program in February 2013. As of today five civil suits claiming national compensation have been filed by Korean schools in the district courts of Tokyo, Osaka, Aichi, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.

Following such discriminatory decisions by the Japanese central government, some local governments also have refused subsidies or cut subsidies that have been granted to Korean schools up to that point. The subsidies have been halted in some prefectures such as Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima as of October 2014. This represents about one third of local governments that have granted subsidies to Korean schools. In Osaka a civil suit demanding the Osaka prefectural government reverse the decision to refuse the subsidy for Korean schools was filed in the court in 2013 by the Osaka Korean school.

Moreover some municipal governments such as Yokohama and Hiroshima have also followed the decisions of the prefectural authorities and withheld payments of the subsidies. As a result some parents have given up sending their children to Korean schools and sent them to Japanese schools which are granted much more subsidies than Korean schools.

Our Association raised these discriminatory policies against Korean school children with CERD which we believe amounts to racial discrimination and infringes the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that Japan ratified in 1995. I also visited Geneva in August to raise these issues directly with the members of CERD. As a result of the examination of the government of Japan, CERD ruled as mentioned above concerning Korean schools. This means that in the view of CERD, the exclusion of Korean schools from the Tuition Fee Waiver Program and refusing subsidies at various government levels constitutes racial discrimination.

The Japanese government has also been directed in the past by several international human rights bodies to revise its policy which infringes on the rights to education in Korean schools.

The history of discriminatory policy against Korean schools by the Japanese government can be traced back to the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910-1945. This discrimination was worsened by the compulsory close-down of Korean schools in 1948-49 which has been called ‘4.24 Gyoyug Tujaeng (4.24 교육투쟁)which means struggling for education on 24th April’. The Ministry of Education carried out its plan to prohibit Korean children from attending Korean schools in 1948 and over a million Koreans in Japan struggled against that policy. In case of Hyogo prefecture, 10,000 Koreans gathered around a prefectural office and made the governor reverse the decision to close down Korean schools on 24th April 1948. However the 8th US Army, in association with the government of Japan, oppressed those struggles of Koreans by announcing a state of emergency under the anti-communism and cold war structure at the time. As a result, 3,000 Korean were arrested and a 16 year old Korean boy, Kim Tae-il was killed and Korean activist Park Ju-bom was also killed as a result of shooting and torture by the Japanese authorities. These memories of struggle have been handed on to Korean residents in Japan and many of them say the discriminatory policy of the Japanese government against Korean schools has been continued for about 70 years.

In the recommendations relating to hate speech and hate crimes in Japan, CERD recommended the Japanese government ‘address the root causes of racist hate speech’ and it should combat ‘prejudices which lead to racial discrimination’. This suggests that CERD recognizes that hate speech and hate crimes against Korean residents in Japan has not occurred suddenly. It recognizes that there are deep-seated causes which go back to the time when Korea was colonized by Japan. This colonization by the Japanese government is at the core of the discrimination against Korean school students and the spreading of hate speech and hate crimes across Japanese society.

Most Korean residents in Japan are descendants of those who were forced to live in Japan because of the colonial rule of Japan in their homeland. The Japanese government has the obligation to ensure justice to Korean residents in Japan who were deprived of their language, name and culture by Japan. The Japanese government must guarantee ethnic education of Korean children. The Japanese government should immediately stop the discriminatory policies against Korean schools and guarantee right to education for Korean children.

I hope the civil movement both in Japan and elsewhere will support Korean schools in their plea for acceptance and the elimination of discrimination.


Wooki KIM is on the Secretariat staff of Human Rights Association for Korean Residents in Japan.

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