Suffer the childrenChild neglect and abuse is becoming a serious problem in Korea amid a slow economy, joblessness, worsening economic inequalities and more ruptured families. Experts worry that marital strife and parental frustration due to social polarization are being taken out on vulnerable children. Society must raise awareness of the problem and pay more attention to child abuse and rampant violations of the rights of minors.
An eight-year-old girl recently died from a beating by her stepmother in Ulsan. The police said an autopsy found 16 of the child’s 24 ribs broken and concluded that a fractured rib fatally pierced her lung. The southern district branch of the Seoul prosecution office recently indicted a thirtysomething man and his girlfriend for the death of the man’s eight-year-old son from internal bleeding. The child was reported to have been frequently battered with a golf club and an electric massager.
According to the National Child Protection Agency, the number of child abuse incidents totaled 6,403 last year, more than doubling over the last 10 years. The abuse mostly took place at home, accounting for 5,567 cases, or 86.9 percent, of the total. Homes should be the safest place in the world for a child. They’ve become the most dangerous place. Experts say that the number of unreported cases of abuse can’t even be estimated. And yet, criminal actions against abusive parents and guardians are rare and are not considered very serious in spite of the psychological and sometimes fatal consequences of their actions. In principle, physical abuse that results in a child’s death is punished by a prison sentence of more than three years. But in most cases the perpetrators get three to five years. That punishment is too light for taking the life of a vulnerable child. In the United States, child abuse fatalities are punished with a jail term of more than 15 years.
Such light criminal sentencing is not the only problem. When social workers from 50 child shelters and protection centers visit homes from which abuse has been reported frequently, they are often turned away by parents. Some parents of abused children need therapy, but there are no legal mechanisms to force it upon them. And when abused children are returned home from shelters they often become victims all over again.
Courts should levy harsher sentences for child abuse and police should be involved from the initial investigation stage. Therapy should be mandatory for abusive parents and other family members. Only when stricter rules are established will adult society truly value and respect the lives and rights of young children.