By Kim Tae-jong
A cruel father’s beating of his three-year-old son to death has underscored the lack of protection of child welfare. It has led to public calls to institute tougher rules and a better system against growing domestic violence.
The boy, identified by his surname Kim, was allegedly beaten to death by his father on Dec. 16, and abandoned at a nearby construction site in Gwangjin-gu, Seoul.
“The life of the child could’ve been saved if there had been an immediate report of the domestic abuse to the authorities or protective service organizations,” said Lee Ji-mi, manager at the National Child Protection Agency (NCPA). “Neighbors and other caregivers should also pay greater attention to prevent such tragic accidents.”
The 33-year-old father repeatedly beat his son because he believed the boy was not his biological child, according to Gwangjin Police Station.
The police discovered that the neighbors and even kindergarten teachers had long been aware of the domestic abuse. But nobody had taken any action.
“Neighbors and kindergarten teachers said they suspected the boy was being assaulted by his parents, after seeing bruises on his body, but no one once reported it to the authorities,” a police officer said.
Without proper protection and care, the boy suffered from severe maltreatment.
“The boy cried often, shouting, ‘Help me!’ He cried desperately late at night for hours,” a woman in her 30s living next door to the Kim’s was quoted as saying by the police officer. Due to continuous complaints from neighbors about the boy crying at night, the family moved twice to different houses before the boy was killed, the police officer added.
Child protection law
A stricter Child Welfare Law was enacted in 2004 to prevent child abuse, but the number of cases has not decreased. According to the NCPA, over 5,000 child abuse cases are reported annually.
The number is probably much higher as many incidents go unreported. About 80 percent of reported child abuse occurs at home.
Under current laws, doctors, kindergarten teachers and other caregivers are subject to legal action if they fail to report suspected child abuse to the authorities.
“The problem is, domestic abuse is hard to uncover,” Lee at the NCPA said. “Neighbors and caregivers are reluctant to get involved in domestic issues, because people think childrearing and disciplinary action is up to the parents in Korean culture.”
Although there are demands for severe punishment for parents charged with domestic abuse, such action could also lead to further problems if the family unit breaks up.
“We take steps to isolate a child from his or her parents or find another home if necessary. But what we’re trying to do is to help parents provide the necessary care to their children in a proper manner. Family dissolution can also be traumatic for a child,” Lee said.
She also said people should be more aware of other kinds of child abuse along with physical and sexual maltreatment.
Child abuse also refers to the emotional mistreatment and neglect of children, which actually accounts for the largest number of child abuse cases but are not easily detected, experts said.