Abuse cases highlight law’s leniency

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Abuse cases highlight law’s leniency

Abusing a child is heinous and cruel. It is therefore one of the worst kinds of violence. It leaves lasting physical and psychological scars on the child and in some instances can be fatal. Physical violence at home has been tolerated in the name of discipline, but these parenting measures should be more strongly addressed.

Two stepmothers who beat their stepdaughters to death received court sentences last week. A court in Daegu sentenced one woman, surnamed Lim, to 10 years in prison for beating her 8-year-old stepdaughter so hard at their home in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang, that she died of an intestinal rupture. Lim then intimidated the victim’s 12-year-old sister into taking the blame. The girls’ biological father, who condoned the beatings and also abused his daughters, received a three-year prison term. Prosecutors sought 20 years for Lim and seven years for the father.

In the second case, an Ulsan court handed out a 15-year jail sentence to a stepmother who beat her 8-year-old stepdaughter so hard last October that 16 of her 24 ribs were broken. Some of them pierced her lungs, and she died from her wounds. Prosecutors demanded a death sentence, but the court convicted the stepmother of assault instead.

Both judges emphasized strong punishments against child abuse, but their rulings nevertheless fell short of expectations. The stepmother in Chilgok repeatedly abused her stepdaughters, and was as cruel as to force the victim’s sister, who witnessed the 8-year-old die, to take the blame. The woman in Ulsan mercilessly beat her young stepdaughter after the girl asked if she could go on a school field trip. Jail terms of more than 10 years are higher than those recommended in the Supreme Court’s Sentencing Commission for those convicted of inflicting a fatal injury. But physical violence against a helpless child demands harsher punishment.

The appeals proceedings should better reflect social consensus on child abuse. Society must ultimately come up with stronger regulations to protect children from abuse. Politicians are currently mulling over legislation, and the police are organizing a special division committed to cracking down on child abuse as well as sexual abuse. The two girls could have been saved if the reports by their teachers led to timely help. The measures should not stop at slogans, but be institutionalized so that children can receive the right protection and care.

Children are not the possessions of their parents. A society is of no use if it cannot defend the rights of its smallest and most helpless citizens.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 12, Page 30

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