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Parents demand action on cults

Parents' groups in Japan are urging schools to do more to counter the playground recruiting activities of the country's growing number of religious cults.

The publicity surrounding Aum Shinrikyo, the religious sect which has been linked with the nerve-gas attacks on the Tokyo subway, has focused attention on the adverse effect that some of Japan's 183,000 registered new religions are having on young people.

Although many of the new sects are harmless, dedicated to the advancement of peace and personal fulfilment, others have brain-washed impressionable young people, luring them away from their homes, schools and colleges.

Parents' groups are particularly concerned that the sons and daughters of some cult members are now being asked to pass recruiting videos, audio tapes and pamphlets to their classmates. Pupils showing an interest are then encouraged to join the religious group.

Religious cults have already infiltrated Japan's colleges and universities. Many of the top officials of Aum Shinrikyo are engineers, doctors and computer experts who studied at the country's most prestigious universities.

"Cult members are often highly educated individuals who have become disillusioned with the excessive materialism of post-war Japan," says high-school teacher Daisuke Kobayashi. "They are seeking alternative pathways to happiness.

"Students leaving home for university are particularly vulnerable to the recruiting campaigns," adds college lecturer Takasahi Saito. "Religious groups say they can provide young people with the sort of lifestyles that will make their lives more rewarding."

It is an offer which also appeals to the many school pupils under immense pressure to perform well in the exams which dominate Japan's education system."The new religions offer easier ways of achieving fulfilment," says Takasahi Saito.

Pupils who are lonely and isolated from their peer groups are also popular targets for the recruiting agents of the new religions. The spate of pupil suicides which occurred last year has highlighted the extent of the pressures facing many young Japanese.

Some high-school pupils are also infatuated by cult representatives such as Fumihiro Joyu, the 32-year-old spokesman for Aum Shinrikyo.

Other converts are wooed by fear. Shoko Asahara, the leader of Aum Shinrikyo, has predicted that the world will end in 1997 and that only Aum adherents will survive.

Parents are now asking schools to provide more information to help young people cope with their lives and to realise the dangers of joining extreme cults. Although Japanese schools do not provide formal religious education, they have mandatory moral education.

But critics of Japan's rigorous education system say more drastic reforms are necessary to prevent young people becoming disillusioned with the country's achievement-based society.

Several reform groups argue for a system which places less emphasis on academic credentials.

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