Hungry holidaysAs the number of socially marginalized people rises by the day, children are increasingly becoming at risk with the fear of economic turmoil looming larger. With an increase in the rates of parents’ unemployment, bankruptcy, divorce and absence from home, the number of children on the verge of starvation continues to rise each year. Fortunately during school term those in certain schools are provided free meals. At present, 617,000 students in elementary, middle and high schools nationwide are offered free meals. However, during vacations approximately 320,000 have go without.
During vacation periods, the number is due to a dualistic management system. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology shoulders the responsibly of providing free meals when school is in, but each local government is responsible during vacations.
The Education Ministry informs local governments of schoolchildren who need to receive free lunches, gathering the data by way of a survey. Often, however, younger children and especially teenagers, would rather go hungry than publicly acknowledge their socioeconomic status.
As a result of the flak the program received from the public ahead of the winter vacation, the government ordered schools to carry out the survey again, with a view to adding more children to the list for free meals. However, it is a stop-gap policy. Although it must run its course this year, we should be firmly determined to overhaul the system as soon as possible.
It is urgent that the government secures an appropriate budget to resolve this matter. Currently 20 million won ($13,578) per annum is allocated for free school meals during vacations. However, if the number rises after the new survey is done, there will be an urgent need for money. Therefore, relevant governments are discussing measures to borrow reserve funds or receive special aid grants. We know that the government is on an extremely tight budget right now. However, there is nothing more important than seeing our children are fed. We should prioritize being modest in expenditure and expand the budget for free meals.
The support system for marginalized children requires an across the board overhaul. Depending on the household, children may be left alone all day during vacations. Some civic groups are conducting programs that provide free meals and lessons during this time. Now is the time for the government to directly tackle this problem, so all children can enjoy a happy holiday.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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