Taking parents to task

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Taking parents to task

Adults need to be held legally accountable for neglecting their parental duties, according to a civilian expert who attended a recently convened council on preventing sex crimes, which was organized by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. The council was formed after a 10-year-old girl was raped and murdered by a man living in the same neighborhood in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang, in July. The victim was mostly left alone without parental care, and it is true that most crimes against children exploit situations where they are poorly supervised.

Those at the meeting agreed on the need for tougher regulations on parental responsibility, but the gathering ended without any firm conclusion. It must also be borne in mind that many working parents have little choice but to leave their kids unattended, and society lacks both the funds and institutions to protect and care for these children on their behalf.

The issue flared up with renewed vigor due to another macabre sex crime against a minor in Naju, South Jeolla. The victim, a 7-year-old girl, was also neglected by her parents. The offender found the front door unlocked and went into the victim’s house in the middle of night, snatching the girl who was asleep in her blanket. She was sleeping in the living room while her father slept in another room, and her mother played computer games in a nearby Internet cafe.

No parent dare imagine that their child can be kidnapped in the middle of the night from their own home, and it would be unfair to totally blame the girl’s family for what happened. Nonetheless, perhaps stricter laws punishing parents would have made them more vigilant.

We now find ourselves bombarded with news of horrifying sex crimes and random attacks. The pubic is demanding reinforced law enforcement to make society safer, as well as harsher punishments for sex criminals and a crackdown on child pornography on the Internet. These actions could help rein in crimes, but they cannot fundamentally solve the problem.

At the end the day, the responsibility for ensuring a child’s safety and well-being lies with the parents. Koh Jong-seok, who kidnapped and raped the girl in Naju, was a delinquent who was known to have committed burglaries since his teenage years. A large share of other offenders also come from broken homes or violent families. Moreover, runaways aged between 14 and 19 are on the rise in the country, with the number jumping to 20,434 last year from 12,237 in 2007. They are exposed to various temptations leading them into a life of crime.

According to a study by the National Assembly Research Service, Korea is the world’s sixth-largest producer and purveyor of child pornography. More shocking is that many of the images were taken and circulated online by young people themselves. Foreign states impose heavy punishments for those found to be in possession of graphic images of minors. Those who produce the material are prosecuted even more strictly. But it is disturbing to know that Korean teenagers are recording and circulated these images, with little regard or care for the harm they are doing and its ramifications. With proper parenting and social guidance, they would have been very unlikely to go down this path.

Our society is too lenient on parents. The child welfare law holds them accountable for their children’s safety, but it does not include any provisions that deal with other kinds of neglect. Meanwhile, those who abandon or abuse their kids can receive prison terms of up to five years, or a maximum fine of 30 million won ($26,540). According to a doctoral thesis produced by Sookmyung Women’s University, eight out of 10 teachers do not report suspected child abuse cases, even though they are obliged to do so. This suggests the nation as a whole has become desensitized or indifferent to domestic violence.

Adults need to be taught clearly what their role is as parents and punished when they fall short. We should consider the U.S. system of stripping people of their parental rights if they abuse, neglect or fail to provide a decent home environment for their kids. Parents must be made aware that they can lose their children if they neglect their duties.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Sunny Yang
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