School dropouts turn to crime
By Kim Rahn
A spate of suicides stemming from violence among young classmates has spawned an equal amount of government measures, statistical studies and online debate.
What it has ignored are the youngsters “outside of schools.” Those who drop out of schools due to family problems or maladjustment to school systems are more likely to commit crimes and calls are mounting to counteract this.
Offenses committed by them are rising.
Last week, police arrested five teenagers and booked another four without physical detention for beating an 18-year-old girl to death at the home of one of the offenders in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, on April 6. They allegedly buried the body in a nearby park the next morning.
The nine were aged between 17 and 19. They were five girls and four boys. Six of them had dropped out of school. One of them was three months pregnant and another had given birth three months ago. Two were brother and sister.
They said they beat the victim, who had also quit a high school, because she didn’t take care of the pregnant senior and often talked back to them.
Guilt pushed the brother and sister to confess to the murder to their parents.
“Hanging about in small groups, the troubled teens repeatedly run away from home and commit minor crimes. Most of them have previous convictions for theft and three of the suspects were already under probation,” a police officer at Ilsan Police Station said.
As made apparent from the case, crimes by teenaged high school dropouts are a problem as serious as school violence or adult crimes.
According to data by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 73,494 adolescents quit elementary, middle or high school in 2008. 71,769 quit in 2009 and 61,893 in 2010. The total number is decreasing but that of high school dropouts has risen to 15,267 in 2010 from 14,015 in 2008.
Lack of attention
Of the dropouts, about half quit because of family problems or inability to adjust to the school system.
One of the nine offenders, 17-year-old Ku changed high schools four times as he either left voluntarily or was expelled because he frequently skipped classes or didn’t get along with other students. “Ku ran away from home just days before the crime. When his teacher told his mother to make him come back home from the place he was staying, the mother said it wouldn’t work,” the policeman said.
The victim also had run away from home twice previously, and her parents didn’t report her disappearance to the police this time although she had been gone for 15 days, he said.
According to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, there were reports of some 28,000 teenage runaways as of the end of 2010.
The ministry provides teenage dropouts with counseling, support programs for future employment, help with studying or help preparing them to return to school, but not many actually use the services.
“Many such teens have family problems. We are expanding counseling programs which involve not only the youngsters but also their parents, so that they can improve family relationships. For children or parents that are emotionally disturbed, we plan to offer therapy as well,” a ministry official said.
Gyeonggi Provincial Council member Choi Chang-eui said dropouts face worse conditions than the homeless.
“The homeless can get a meal at a shelter, but teenage dropouts, if they run away from home, have to get food on their own without any social protection. The nation should allow options so that problem youth not attending schools can keep studying, receive job education and better themselves,” he said.