Helping troubled teensThe number of teenagers quitting school and wandering the streets is on the rise. As of early last year, the number of students who dropped out of school due to various reasons - bullying, poor progress in learning - reached 70,000.
As the economic crisis deepens, the number of children who ran away from home due to domestic problems such as divorce or violence has skyrocketed. The majority of such teenagers normally arrive late to school, skip classes and then give up on school altogether.
The government estimates 300,000 children are on the brink of quitting school. The moment they are on the streets, they are likely to be exposed to threats of delinquency. This is why a safety net for such teenagers should be immediately introduced.
However, existing countermeasures for teenagers in danger are vastly insufficient. Only 77 youth shelters across the country temporarily provide accommodation and meals for runaway teenagers, without helping them to resume their studies.
Considering that one can get a secure job and be independent only when one has at least completed high school, it is urgent to establish a program that allows dropouts to return to education.
To do so, there is a need to expand the Community Youth Safety-Net (CYS-Net) program operated by the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs. CYS-Net offers counseling, education and medical services upon the request of the runaway teenager or people around him. Many runaway teenagers and long-term absent students have successfully returned to their families and their schools through CYS-Net.
The budget related to the program should be increased. Publicity is needed as well, so that many more teenagers can benefit from it.
The Health Ministry also needs to strengthen its joint business ties with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. Currently, the former takes care of teenagers who quit school, and the latter oversees teenagers on the brink of giving up their studies, separately.
Separate operations by the two ministries hinder them from providing comprehensive and efficient support for such teenagers. The two ministries need to work together to increase the number of alternative schools to help teenagers who have a hard time adapting to their old schools. They also need to increase the support given to encourage teenagers to take school qualification examinations.
Experts forecast that number of street teenagers will escalate this year and next, like what happened after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. If such teenagers continue to be neglected, they will later become a great public concern to society.
Although today’s economic conditions are worsening, we should pay careful attention to our teenagers as they are the future of this nation.
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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