Helping teens in trouble

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Helping teens in trouble

As soon as a girl posts a short message that starts with “I’ve run away from home...” on the Internet, the men crowd round to meet her. About 90 percent of prostitution involving teenage girls in Korea is conducted via “girlfriend service” Web sites on the Internet.

Many teenagers who run away from home start out by working at convenience stores or gas stations for 3,000 won ($2.60) an hour. When the going gets tough, they turn to other means of survival. Only around 600 to 700 teenagers are charged with prostitution, but it is estimated that a great portion of the 15,000 teens who run away from home participate in prostitution.

The more shocking fact is that the actions of runaway teenagers who live together in groups often mimic those of brothel workers. The oldest becomes the pimp and forces the younger teens into prostitution. In one case like this, a group of teenagers prostituted themselves almost every day for years because they were beaten if they did not obey the orders of their teenage madam, and were only able to escape when she was caught and placed in a juvenile reformatory.

It is more difficult for young people who have experienced prostitution at least once to return to society than it is for other teens who have run away, because it leaves a deep emotional scar. Therefore, the sad truth is that a great majority of this group feel they have no choice but to become involved with prostitution even after they become adults.

To prevent this phenomenon, we need to increase the number of long-term rest centers and alternative schools that can embrace these young people and help them support themselves, because most runaway teenagers come from abusive families and their parents cannot be trusted to take care of them.

Eun-young, a 17-year-old girl who was introduced in a recent story in the JoongAng Ilbo, fell into the swamp of prostitution after she ran away from an abusive father and was picked up by a young man who became her pimp. She escaped, just barely, and is now preparing for the middle school qualification examination at the Always Green Independent School founded by the city of Seoul. Now she has dreams of going to high school and becoming a pet groomer.

Runaway children who get tangled up in prostitution should be provided with a foundation for independence like Eun-young. However, what is even more important is prevention. Even if a family has problems, the worst situation can be prevented if schoolteachers and friends take some interest. Needless to say, adults who infringe upon the rights of teenagers should be tracked down and severely punished.
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