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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 December 7 - 13  > Over 5,000 students take part in SDF’s ‘experience’ programs every year
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2016 December 7 - 13 [SDF]

Over 5,000 students take part in SDF’s ‘experience’ programs every year

December 11, 2016
More than 5,000 junior high and senior high school students every year take part in the Self-Defense Forces’ experience programs, Akahata reported on December 11 based on the Defense Ministry’s answer to an Akahata inquiry. This indicates that the SDF is stepping up its efforts to recruit teenagers.

Sakata Takashi, a high school teacher in Aomori Prefecture, said that SDF recruiters have frequently visited his high school, trying to talk students into enrolling in the SDF. Their sweet talk includes claims such as, “There is no danger,” “You can quit anytime you want,” and “You can obtain a driver’s license for free.” Despite an agreement between schools and companies that recruitment activities should officially begin in July every year, SDF personnel start making school visits in April. These recruiters repeatedly meet the principals and even hold briefing sessions for students under the pretext of helping students pass enlistment exams, according to Sakata.

In 2015 in Aomori, 789 new high school graduates joined the SDF, which is the highest number per 100,000 residents among Japan’s 47 prefectures. Sakata explained that the prefecture has few local industries other than agriculture and that a stable income from the SDF may be appealing to many students. One in five male graduates of Sakata’s high school entered the SDF.

Sakata said that the number of SDF applicants would drastically decrease if an SDF member were killed during the UN Peace Keeping Operation in South Sudan. Under such a situation, he went on to say, the SDF would further try to attract students by using its scholarship programs as bait. Sakata stressed that Japan might be turned into a country where teenagers from poor families choose to go to the battleground overseas for economic reasons.

All Japan Teachers and Staffs Union (Zenkyo) officer Yamamoto Noriko pointed out that the number of new applicants to the SDF is going down because, in addition to Japan’s declining birthrate, the SDF is assuming more risky duties after the war laws took effect. She noted that SDF recruiters are targeting the high school from which they graduated. In some municipalities, Yamamoto said, SDF recruiters sent direct solicitations to high school seniors based on personal information they obtained from local governments.

Yamamoto pointed out that some schools have their students take part in the SDF’s experience programs as part of their curriculum. She said that these students undergo mock drills, including sitting in a helicopter cockpit and learning how to use a missile launcher. She stressed that such experiences totally go against the principle of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which the Japanese government adopted in 2004.

Yamamoto explained that Zenkyo urges the Defense Ministry to put a ban on three activities of SDF recruiters: sending recruitment letters to junior high and senior high school students (which is prohibited according to notices issued by the Education and Labor ministries); home visits without prior consent; and providing students with opportunities to observe live-fire training drills and hold weapons.

Past related articles:
> Gunma JCP demands cancellation of SDF experience program for junior high school students [ November 2 and 4, 2016]
> SDF increases activities to recruit high school students in face of its growing unpopularity [ October 26, 2016]
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