[VIEWPOINT]The ‘syndrome of group suicide’The Korean Peninsula has been overwhelmed by the “syndrome of group suicide” stemming from the difficulty in making a living, with some parents taking the lives of their innocent children, along with their own, after failing in business.
A family of six, discouraged by their business failure, committed suicide on Sept. 16. The head of the family, a man in his late 40s who had run a discount store but was burdened with a huge amount of debt after going bankrupt, took poison together with his wife and four children.
In his will, which was left in a motel, the man said, “I had too many difficulties in running a business. Because of my bad debts, I was cursed and insulted. Seven times I visited my brother in Busan, who was the best off among nine siblings, and begged for help in vain.”
Because of their business problems, this couple reportedly ran up a debt of 2 billion won ($1.9 million) and had been hunted by the police after a creditor involved the law enforcement authorities.
People felt sorry about their deaths, saying that when they were rejected by their relatives, their last resort, the family had to give up hope and take extreme measures. How serious their hardship must have been to cause the deaths of their children.
The suicide of this family was the fifth case this month alone. On Sept. 11, a couple in their 30s drove their car into a reservoir in Gunpo, Gyeonggi province, with their two sons in it. The couple died but luckily the children’s lives were saved. On Sept. 8, a couple in their 50s and their son, in his 30s, burned to death after they tied themselves to their car and set it on fire in Taean, South Chungcheong province.
On Sept. 3, a mother in her 40s and her teenage daughter jumped to their death from an apartment building in Dapshimri-dong, Seoul. A family of four, including five- and six-year-old daughters, killed themselves in Wanju, North Jeolla province.
A series of terrible tragedies has occurred just a few days apart. Besides choosing the most extreme response, the families had in common the burden of a huge debt. They had been declared personally bankrupt because of credit-card debts or hunted by their creditors or the police.
Their behavior must be criticized as irresponsible and inhuman in a way. It is deplorable that they should cause their children’s deaths when they themselves are responsible for their failure.
But considering their cornered situation, it is hard to simply scold them for their irresponsible behavior.
Although the government proclaims that it is working for the realization of a welfare society at every opportunity, the families were in a wretched situation where they couldn’t get any help from the social safety net.
Credit delinquents, including those with overdue credit- card debt, amount to about 3.2 million nationwide. They are “objects of social murder.”
To prevent the spread of family suicide, a sincere effort by the government is required now more than ever.
I am not talking about temporary general measures such as supporting living expenses for the extremely poor. I mean that the government should create a roadmap for these people, who are stigmatized as “credit delinquents,” so that they can start new lives.
The government should suggest solutions for those who have failed economically so they can overcome their gloomy situation in which they have to give up their lives.
It should also encourage them to try again with hope. The government should also be aware that a society in which suicide occurs frequently is not a healthy one.
I truly hope that the government will take the lead in establishing a roadmap that can work for a century, so that credit delinquents on the brink of committing suicide can recover from their hardship.
For example, the government should help credit delinquents regain the morality to repent their faults and stop leading irresponsible lives, or learn skills to run a new enterprise, or emigrate overseas to start a new life.
Debt has caused families to commit group suicide. I look forward to seeing a society where light and hope take the place of debt.
* The writer is the managing editor of the JoongAng Daily.
by Shin Joong-don