We owe it to our kids
Public policy on child abuse must be more proactive to protect children from such threats in advance. Korea ranks third among the 29 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in child deaths from physical abuse with 1.16 children in 100,000 victimized every year. Reported abuse cases totaled 17,791 last year. That number may be just the tip of the iceberg. Many kids may be living in a constant state of threat, deprivation and abuses like the 11-year-old girl who fled her home after being kept a captive for two years in a house by an Internet-game-addict father.
Society turns a disgusted back on the issue of child abuse. The legislature passed a special law on child abuse last year after an 8-year-old girl was habitually beaten by her stepmother in Ulsan. But the law mostly focused on toughening punishments for abusers, and not on preventing abuse in the future. Korean adults traditionally discipline children using corporal punishment and a deeply-rooted patriarchal sensibility makes society lenient and overly tolerant of harsh treatment of children. Koreans believe that child-rearing should be entirely left up to the parents. Without tougher preemptive measures, child abuses cannot be reduced.
Law enforcement must be able to get more involved in cracking down on abusive families. Since parents are blamed for more than 80 percent of the child abuse cases, rights must be restricted for violent adults. Under the new law, parental rights can be limited when children are so battered they require emergency hospital care. But police and schools still are reluctant to use the law on abusive parents.
In the United States, parents are immediately separated from their children if they are found to be threatening them and can lose their parental rights. Advanced countries have authorities to launch a probe if children show signs of abuses. The British introduced a law that can even punish parents for psychological abuse. Japan encourages people to report to authorities when children are believed to be abuse victims.
The government said it will start investigations if children miss schools for a long time, as the 11-year-old girl did. We talk about stronger rules every time sad cases are reported in the media without making real improvements. The government, local communities, schools and police all have to join forces to make our environment safer for our children.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 24, Page 34