Supporters blast rejection of child care provisionA bill that would require all day care centers to install security cameras was shot down at the National Assembly’s plenary session on Tuesday, a decision that provoked an intense reaction among its supporters and led to speculation about lawmakers’ motives.
Only 83 lawmakers out of the 171 lawmakers who attended the session voted for the bill, just three short of a majority. Forty-one opposed and 45 abstained.
Most of those who voted against the bill or abstained were lawmakers from the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy.
The bill, part of government countermeasures following a string of child abuse cases, was unanimously passed by the Health and Welfare Committee last week and agreed upon by members of the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition.
The revision on child care regulations that was rejected on Tuesday was part of a comprehensive plan that would require day care centers to set up cameras and store video footage for at least 60 days. It would also prohibit those with prison records from running child care centers for 20 years.
Currently, the limit is 10 years.
Its rejection was swiftly criticized by the bill’s supporters, most of whom are parents.
“Setting up CCTV cameras might just be a Band-Aid, but it’s the least we can do as parents to protect our children,” said Kim Jeong-seok, 34, who led rallies and signature-seeking campaigns after a day care teacher in Incheon was caught on tape smacking a 4-year-old girl in the face. “Many parents now say they want to leave this country, and we are planning to have meetings and stage rallies.”
Some civic groups have planned protests this week.
“The completed inspection on day care centers only saw 61 people questioned and just two arrested,” said the Lee Sun-yi, the president of the School Parent’s Association for Education and School. “The government did nothing on child care after a string of recent abuse cases. We plan to rally in front of the National Assembly this week.”
Teachers also expressed their disappointment with the rejection of the bill, as the revision was expected to enhance working conditions.
“We thought the security cameras would result in the more transparent operation of those facilities,” said Kim Myeong-ja, the president of the National Childcare Teachers’ Association. “Day care center owners sometimes register themselves as teachers but don’t actually take care of the children, or make the teachers do jobs they’re not supposed to do.”
A few analysts have speculated that lawmakers refused to vote for the bill due to pressure from interest groups. “Private day care centers are usually connected to local lawmakers,” an aide to one lawmaker said on the condition of anonymity. “Lawmakers don’t have a choice if those owners threaten not to vote for them in the next election.”
However, Saenuri Party Rep. Shin Yee-jin, who is also a child psychologist, said the revision was agreed upon after a heated discussion in the Health and Welfare Committee.
“Installing security cameras,” Shin added, “was only a part of the bill, and there were many other safety measures in it. But I think lawmakers misunderstood it as the CCTV bill.”
The government plans to bring up the bill at the National Assembly’s plenary session in April for more discussion with the ruling and the main opposition parties.
Following the bill’s rejection, two more child abuse cases were reported on Thursday in Incheon and Goseong, South Gyeongsang.
The Incheon Seobu Police Precinct said they are questioning a 23-year-old female day care center teacher who allegedly abused 19 of her 5-year-old students on 127 occasions from October to November. More than 50 of those times focused on one boy.
The police have reportedly secured video footage that would shed light on the incidents.
The center’s 56-year-old owner is also being questioned over allegations that she was negligent in monitoring her employees.
Seven out of the eight teachers at a day care center in Goseong are under police investigation, after having been found to have abused 26 students over 72 instances in November. Among other allegations, they are believed to have physically abused their students.
BY KIM BONG-MOON, RHEE ESTHER [firstname.lastname@example.org]