[MINORITY VOICE]Help Runaways Rebuild Their Lives

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[MINORITY VOICE]Help Runaways Rebuild Their Lives

The most serious juvenile problem for Korean society is runaway teenagers. Most juveniles are lured into crime or the sex trade only after running away from home.

The Korea Youth Proper Guidance Association has provided guidance to 11,560 runaway teenagers since 1993, with the help of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The association has raised the necessity of alternative schools for runaway youths and a law enabling the state to act as their guardians through seminars since 1995.

The organization's survey in 1995 of middle and high school students across the nation shows the severity of juvenile problems. Around 120,000 teenagers run away from home every year, and some 70,000 drop out of or are expelled from school. Many of them go into crime, some become prostitutes.

Runaway teenagers are not merely problems of the young. Even worse problems often arise after they grow up. Chances are that many of them will become freeloaders, unwilling to contribute to society and perennially unemployed, which leads to a loss for the nation. And runaways are much more likely to end up having problem children themselves.

Therefore, it is very important to find runaway teenagers and give them proper guidance. It is a risky and costly task, but the results are invaluable. Each juvenile that is helped is a benefit to our homes, schools and society as a whole. And given that quite a few crimes are committed by runaway adolescents, runaway teenagers are like walking timebombs.

But I am aware that the nation's civic groups have a long way to go when I see how many people harbor prejudices about juvenile guidance or expect civic groups to provide services free.

We wait until minor offenders become dangerous criminals and make a fuss, much too late, about why they are arrested. It is good news that the government has finally decided to set up alternative schools for dropouts. For such institutions to reap the desired results, we should not think of them merely as rehabilitation centers for dropout teens. Research should focus on how to prevent juvenile crime and promote the welfare of delinquent teenagers.

The efforts of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development alone will not establish solid alternative schools. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which is also involved in juvenile problems, must work with the ministries of Justice, Labor and Gender Equalities, the family court, the Commission on Youth Protection, the Public Prosecutors Office, the National Police Agency, civic groups and schools. I believe that the government should create a founding committee, made up of experienced people recommended by ministries, agencies and organizations, and allow the committee to decide where to build the educational facilities, how to manage them and what they will teach. The committee may also discuss government support to teenagers of destitute or broken families and the imposition of legal sanctions on parents who try to avoid the responsibility of supporting their children.

Particularly, the new schools should not simply admit dropouts but become special institutions where students are taught various skills to allow them to interact fruitfully in society after graduation. The schools should also provide room and board and give students opportunities to enter university or college.

It will not be an easy task to establish alternative educational centers for troubled youths. It will be a waste of money if the government blindly imitates examples in foreign countries or resorts to makeshift measures to appeal to public opinion or to show off its achievements. Establishing alternative schools for troubled youth is a very important and urgent national task. Therefore, even if the government is unable to provide funds for the project, it should still proceed, even by establishing a "youth promotion tax".


The writer is head of the Korea Youth Proper Guidance Association.

by Park Boo-il

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