The Special Act on Child Abuse, passed in December 2013, was carried into effect starting September 29. The two cases of child abuse, the “Ulsan Stepmother Case,” in which an eight-year-old was beaten to death by her stepmother when she expressed hopes of going out with her friends, and the “Chilgok Stepmother Case,” in which the stepdaughter was constantly beaten and eventually to death by her stepmother, which led to a hoard of criticisms on the lenient sentence compared to the seriousness of the situation, were the main motivations for this enactment. This is a fair move in response to the seriousness of the situation.
The act states that anyone who seriously injures a child or repeats the same offense more than twice will be arrested and be subject to punishment up to a life sentence. Also, child welfare facility workers who fail to report on cases of known child abuse will be fined up to five million Korean Won. To prevent any secondary harm, the police can immediately report to the scene separating the attacker and the victim, and the attacker may be denied contact with the victim. Lastly, such child abusers may be stripped of their parental rights for four years.
The act seems to cover most problems that were brought to surface, but it turns out that the budget and the manpower invested in the implementation of the act are ridiculously insufficient. The target of building 232 child protection institutions nationwide is not even close to being met, with only 51 institutions set up so far. The average number of children placed under the care of a single counselor is currently 90 and expected to top 110 by next year. This is a tragic example of poor implementation of a well-intended response to a crime. Correction of such flaws in society’s rules should not end with promises on paper. If we want to rid our communities of child abuse, sufficient, if not more, investments should be made to properly monitor every case possible.
For many generations in Korea, various cases of abuse have been justified or glorified as “the cane of love,” and these cases of corporal punishment have been rarely criticized but rather encouraged with the common saying “A child well-punished does well in the future.” However, letting bygones be bygones, these views are no longer relevant. “The cane of love” does not exist anymore: love is love, and a cane is just an instrument of abuse.
This article happens to be a follow-up to my article from the last issue on child abuse. As I mentioned in the last issue, an adult who cannot differentiate between discipline and abuse is one who has actually lost control over their emotions. Such adults have to keep up with the times and learn to control their emotions. The act of abuse causes not only physical damage to the child, but also emotional and mental damage that may lead to the child himself displaying violence as he grows up. I wish this special act on child abuse is strengthened and fully invested in, so that it can contribute to the creation of an environment with active reporting of child abuse whenever it is spotted. I dearly hope that it can lead to adults adopting a mindset whereby a child is treated as an independent human being and not the property of his or her parents, wiping out child abuse in our society altogether.