[Editorial] Relieving ‘young carers’ of their excessive burden

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[Editorial] Relieving ‘young carers’ of their excessive burden

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced Monday that it had discovered 95 youths taking care of their parents or grandparents on their own, and gave appropriate support to them since last year. A local government effort to find young people who must care for family members suffering from illness or disabilities carries significance. The indictment last year of a college student for not attending to his stroke-fallen father until his death after so faithfully looking after him for a while shocked our society.

The Supreme Court in April upheld a lower court's sentencing of him to four years in jail, given the son’s physical and financial burden from having to look to his ailing father with no possibility of recovery. After the case, the issue of “young carers,” which refer to those under age 18 who look after a relative with a disability, illness, mental health condition, has surfaced.

Social change from low birth rate and a fast aging society inevitably accompanies sacrifice of young carers. If their parent or grandparent cannot live a normal life due to critical illness, their offspring must take care of them and the burden is increasingly concentrated on one person these days. In Britain and Japan, the government enacted laws to help those young caregivers.

Our government also started to find measures to help them after the tragic indictment of the college student. The Ministry of Health and Welfare began to research the current status of support for them and local governments joined forces in helping them. But we have a long way to go. The National Assembly Research Service estimates the number of young carers aged between 11 and 18 at 295,000 as of February.

That means 95 of them discovered by Seoul City are just a tip of the iceberg. Application for help from a welfare foundation even includes a case involving an eight-year-old who took responsibility for caring for her father suffering a type of muscle cancer and grandmother who underwent a hip surgery. Another case showed a high school student who had to do housework and raise a young brother after his father died of cancer and mother’s health deteriorated suddenly.

The government must first gather precise data on the dire situation of young carers in this country. Given the urgency, local governments can take action first through enacting ordinances rather than simply waiting for the National Assembly to pass a special act, as the latter will take a longer time. The state must rescue them before it is too late.
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