Crime and Poverty
By Kim Heung-sook
I wonder if there were times when crime made for more serious food for thought than it does now. Just when you think you have heard everything, a new, worse crime ensues. Last week, the police apprehended a 41-year-old man and his 25-year-old wife for having caused their baby's death due to neglect. They spent six to 12 hours a day at a ``PC Room," a private establishment where customers pay to use Internet services.
While the couple was indulging in playing games, particularly a role playing game in which they raised a young girl character and kept a baby journal, their daughter was left alone at their rented room. She was born in June of last year and found dead on Sept. 24. An autopsy determined that the baby died due mainly to prolonged malnourishment. A baby in her stage should be fed 10 times a day, yet she was given milk only once or twice a day, police said.
The couple initially denied charges of negligence but later admitted their role in their daughter's death. They said they felt a pang of conscience and abstained from going to PC rooms after she died. The couple didn't have a stable income and lived on aid from the wife's parents ever since they married in 2008. The mass media were quick to blame the couple's addiction to Internet games for their failure to parent their baby properly.
There is no question about the harm of the addiction, but I wonder if it was the only reason behind the tragic death. Psychologists say the couple may have succumbed to the virtual life as they couldn't deal with the stress from the real life, especially rearing their premature baby amid financial difficulties.
Thus, when I blame the parents, I blame their poverty and the government more. I blame the government because it has been urging men and women to have babies, repeatedly emphasizing that the ever-decreasing birthrate is shrinking the nation. The government has been propagandizing baby birth as an act of patriotism, while it was and is not prepared to take care of the babies of faltering parents. Subsidies are given to parents, but they don't meet the needs of the poverty-stricken.
The baby's death couldn't be more tragic yet her life would have been no less miserable if she survived the lack of care. She would almost certainly have suffered from some mental and physical ailments incurred by malnutrition. If she were extremely lucky and made it through her adolescence, she might have become a teenaged single mother.
According to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego last month, early childhood poverty affects people's behavior, future cognitive abilities, and social and emotional well-being.
``Compared to children whose families had incomes of at least twice the poverty line during their early childhood, poor children complete two fewer years of schooling, work 451 fewer hours per year and earn less than half as much," the study said. The unfortunate children are likely to receive more food stamps as adults and experience poor health or higher levels of psychological distress than the affluent ones. Poor males are twice as likely to be arrested and poor women are six times more likely to have a child out of wedlock.
It is regrettable to note that the nation's economic achievement has been accompanied by an ever-widening chasm between the rich and the poor. The rate of starving people has decreased, but the rate of people feeling the sense of relative poverty has increased. A Korean study on the relations between poverty and crime was unavailable, yet it's well known that poverty can turn the conscientious into criminals.
No government can make a nation crime free, yet a good government can and will pre-empt poverty-spawned felonies by helping the poor. One prisoner in a California penitentiary is said to cost three times more than the subsidy for a four-member low-income family. The situation wouldn't be much different here. The incumbent government is the richest government in the history of Korea. If its rich leaders didn't know poverty spawns crime, they have to now. Unless comprehensive measures are taken to help the poor keep their conscience, we will see more new, unthinkable crimes happen.