Committee helps troubled youthsMany teenagers encounter difficulties and some end up becoming involved in crime. While many adults simply condemn such troubled youths, others try to help them. For example, the members of a crime prevention committee, all of them private citizens, have been working with the Justice Ministry for many years to help delinquent teenagers.
The committee’s job is to help those who have served time in prison or under court surveillance. Its objective is to prevent the youths from committing another crime.
One of the methods employed is counselling. The volunteers get legal training from the local prosecutor's office.
Although it has existed since Korea’s independence, it was in 1995 that the volunteer committee launched its first official campaign.
The official tenure for members of the committee is three years, although that can be extended. Yoo Cheon-hee, 48, is a member. He runs a Chinese restaurant in Jeonju, North Jeolla province. He has taken in troubled youths who had committed theft and other crimes.
“When I was in middle school, I was kicked out because I couldn’t pay the tuition fee,” he said. “This is why, when I see troubled children, they are not strangers. After helping out children at an orphanage, I naturally started to take an interest in teenagers who had been involved in wrongdoing,” Mr. Yoo said.
Among the children he has helped, seven currently live under his roof in Jeonju. The children include Dae-cheol, 16, who was caught stealing food from a supermarket; Sang-su, 18, who was arrested after making illegal sales of computer games; and Min-ki, 16, who was caught stealing a motorcycle. These children either ran away from home or their parents were divorced or dead and therefore they had nowhere else to go.
“Of course there were times when some of the children committed further crimes, but there are more children who live a straight life if someone shows an interest in them,” Mr. Yoo said.
“I feel very proud when I see some of them advance to universities after serving the country in the army, or if they find a decent job.”
Mr. Yoo often has happy days because of his work. Forty or more children whom Mr. Yoo has helped still visit his house or call him with news.
A 16-year-old boy who wished to be called Tae-woo has been busy preparing for a high school equivalency exam that he will take in April. Tae-woo, who lives in Ulsan, has also been doing part-time jobs organizing products at a small stationery store run by Park Bong-joon, 50.
Since he was three years old Tae-woo has moved from one welfare institution to another. His nomadic life began when his parents divorced and his father suffered a severe drinking problem. In 2004 Tae-woo was caught stealing a motorcycle. It was around this time that he met Mr. Park.
The store owner has been a member of the crime prevention committee under the Ministry of Justice since 2003.
Since February last year, Mr. Park has helped Tae-woo by financing the boy’s studies.
“Among the helpful things Mr. Park has said to me, I am most thankful when he told me to be neat at all times. People may say ‘What’s so special about that?’ but to me it is the most useful advice,” Tae-woo said.
Mr. Park says the only thing he has done is to buy a few books. “You know how kids are. They make mistakes and the past is the past and for that reason I thought I could not leave this kid alone,” Mr. Park said. He said he suggested that Tae-woo work at his store because if he receives money without working for it, he will get into the habit of living off others.
Mr. Park, who has three children of his own, said that while it is important that good things happen to one’s own children, it is important that good things happen to one’s neighbors as well.
Other than Tae-woo, Mr. Park has been also helping out two other children.
Jung Eui-yeon, 49, has been a member of the crime prevention committee since 2001. Mr. Jung who ran a boiler factory for two decades in Euijeongbu in Gyeonggi province, is now the chief executive officer of a small company in the steel industry.
He met Min-seok, 18, in December of 2005 after the boy was caught stealing.
Mr. Jung has been working tenaciously to open Min-seok’s heart by striking up conversations with the teenager. He listens to Min-seok’s problems and tries to understand what goes through the teen’s mind. He has often invited Min-seok to his house and talks with the youth about his own personal difficulties, growing up in a poor family and how he has earned the lifestyle that he enjoys today.
“Every teen rebels and make mistakes. I do my best to help them end such deviations at an early stage,” said Mr. Jung.
To help Min-seok, Mr. Jung helped him find a part-time job at a gas station. Since then, he has taken snacks such as dumplings to the gas station and always points out Min-seok’s good points to the gas station owner.
“There are still a lot of children that need advice and a mentor. Although it is a small thing, I will try to help those children out as much as I can,” he said.
by Baek Il-hyeon