19 kids missing in national hunt

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19 kids missing in national hunt

To make sure that evil parents aren’t imprisoning or doing fatal harm to their young children, the government has looked into thousands of kids reported missing from schools.

The good news is that most of them have been tracked down and are fine.

But 19 first graders are still missing - and the worst is feared.

The hunt began when an 11-year-old girl appeared barefoot in Incheon last December after having escaped imprisonment in her own house for two years. The girl told police that her father beat her with fists, a cane and even a steel pipe, and the only thing she could freely eat or drink was water. When she was found, she weighed 16 kilograms (35 pounds), the average weight of a 4-year-old.

Starting in January, the Ministry of Education and police have been tracking down students reported as having stopped going to school.

According to the ministry, 6,694 students who registered to start elementary school never showed up. In addition, 986 middle school students were missing. Under order of the government, schools looked for the missing kids in cooperation with local community centers. They found 7,394 students and confirmed their safety. Most of them had moved to different schools and not told their previous schools.

“That left us with 286 elementary and middle school students who were missing; police located 267,” said Shin Ik-hyun, head of the student policy department at the Education Ministry. “Police are trying to locate the missing 19. All of them are first graders.”

Since the end of February, the ministry has been distributing new manuals to provincial and city education offices in managing missing students. The manuals stipulate that education offices should report to police if a student goes missing for more than two days - the current manual says three days. The Education Ministry said relevant amendments to the Child Welfare Act will be pursued in the near future.

The manuals also require education office personnel to visit the homes of long-term missing students - such as home-schooled children - at least once a month. If they visit a home and cannot find the child, they must report it.

Those visits can produce gristly finds.

In January, the remains of a 7-year-old boy were found in his parents’ freezer in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, years after he stopped attending school. His parents told police the boy fell down while his father was forcing him to take a bath in 2012, and “suddenly died” a month later. The father told police that he dissected the boy’s body and stored some parts in the freezer, “throwing some away in a garbage bag and flushing some down the toilet.”

Also in Bucheon, the mummified remains of a 13-year-old girl were found in her parents’ house in February. She allegedly died after she was hit with a broomstick for five hours by her parents, who took a nap after their so-called disciplinary action for the girl. When they awoke, they allegedly realized she was dead. Her body was kept inside the house for more than 10 months, surrounded by air fresheners and dehumidifiers.

And on Monday, the remains of 7-year-old Shin Won-yeong were found buried in a hill in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi. Kim’s stepmother, frustrated at his not being properly potty-trained, allegedly beat the boy in a bathroom in early February, stripped him and doused him in cold water. She locked him up in the bathroom overnight, and the father discovered him dead the next day.

All of the cases were discovered by police because of the probe into children missing from school.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare is also working on a project to develop a comprehensive database on children aged 4 to 6 to more quickly spot kids suspected of being abused by parents.

BY CHUN IN-SUNG, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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