[FOUNTAIN]Protection vs. playfulness

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[FOUNTAIN]Protection vs. playfulness

As a child, almost every Korean male must have experienced grown-ups playfully asking where his penis was. He must have also had to put up with people trying to pat his private parts. Tolerating such actions, even when done by complete strangers, was a part of the unique Korean culture.
Sociologists analyze that the practice originated from the extraordinary preference for sons in Korea. The act of touching the genital parts of young boys is a sort of a ritualistic prayer for fertility and the perpetual prosperity of the child.
However, the act is enough to make a boy, as the object of the teasing, feel sexually harassed. According to child psychologists, an average child develops an ability to categorize males and females at age 3.
By the time children go to elementary school at around 8-years-old, their concept of sexuality is more or less complete.
Even at a very young age, a child does not passively learn sexual identity but actively gathers knowledge appropriate for his or her own sexuality and achieves physical and psychological development related to his or her gender role.
Especially in the case of boys, there is a theory that they overcome the Oedipus complex, a concept advocated by Sigmund Freud about the unconscious sexual desire towards his mother and feeling jealous of his father, around age 6.
It is generally accepted in academia that children develop sexual identity around the time of their entrance to elementary school.
Women’s organizations argue that physical contact with genitalia based on male chauvinism is an abuse which does not take children’s rights into consideration. Children are not only objects of protection but subjects with rights and will.
In the United States, the identities and addresses of sex offenders are made public to other residents based on the so-called “Megan’s Law”
The Supreme Court in Korea this week decided a 59-year-old teacher was guilty of having touched the private parts of a 9-year-old boy and said, “Let’s see where your penis is.” His act had made the boy feel sexually ashamed and disgusted.
The court also declared that the act of touching genital parts of children did not conform to the social environment, values and moral standards of today. It was a meaningful decision that protects children’s rights as individuals.
However, the yardstick of the law could make a grandfather’s expression of sincere affection look like harassment. We might sometimes miss the playful teasing of the old folks.

by Park Jai-hyun

The writer is a deputy national news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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