It takes a village
It is shocking that our children are suffering brutal violence and abuse at home that sometimes leads to their own deaths. Following a tragic case last month involving an elementary school student whose body was mutilated by his parent and then stored in a freezer, a pastor methodically abused - and eventually murdered - his own middle school daughter and stored her corpse in a room in his house until she was mummified. These horrendous cases were discovered after authorities finally decided to make a serious effort to find children who unaccountably stopped going to school.
What is shocking is not only the cruelty exhibited by biological parents and stepparents. These cases explicitly show how dangerous a home can be for an innocent child. The middle school student in question often ran away from home, and her brother and sister weren’t living with the father and stepmother either. (Both are still missing.) But despite ample evidence of a less-than-healthy home life, the girl’s teacher did not pay attention to her nor visit her home - except for a perfunctory call to her parents after her long absence from school. The father told the school his daughter had run away. The school told him to report it to the police. The police did not pay much attention even after they received a report of the disappearance. The girl was beaten for five hours before dying, yet no neighbor reported it to the police even though someone surely heard her screams. Neighbors shrugged it off when the father turned on a fan everyday at dawn to diffuse the odor of the decomposing corpse. No one felt any need to protect a kid from a bad family.
Experts link habitual runaways to serious problems at home. An official at the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family says family problems, including domestic violence, have more to do with juvenile runaways than kids’ bad behavior or impulsiveness. Some experts say psychiatrists must counsel habitual runaway juveniles to determine if they can safely return home. Even though reports say the number of runaway kids reach over 20,000 annually, the number of facilities that can accommodate them stands at a meager 1,250. The conventional wisdom that responsibility for raising kids should be shouldered by their parents doesn’t help.
The recent cases show the need for societal monitoring and care. It took a village to raise a kid in the past. That has changed as the nuclear family has become the norm. We must create a system that calls for intense government intervention and common responsibility. Raising healthy children involves us all.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 5, Page 30