The number of crimes committed by senior citizens is rising rapidly. This may not be strange, taking into account that Korea is one of the world's fastest-aging societies. But the problem is that elderly crimes are rising at a faster pace than the elderly population is growing. Also, this comes as crime rates in other age groups fall or remain steady.
The number of crimes committed by people age 65 or over rose from 68,836 in 2011 to 77,260 in 2013, an increase of 12.2 percent, according to the National Police Agency. During the same period, the nation's elderly population increased 9.6 percent ― from 5.7 million in 2011 to 6.2 million in 2013.
What's even more perplexing is that violent crimes committed by the elderly such as murder, robbery, rape and arson surged nearly 40 percent. Most notable is that rapes and sexual assaults rose at the fastest pace.
The majority of senior offenders commit violent crimes "impulsively,'' which raises the possibility that elderly crimes could be minimized if the government takes due measures. Their better physical condition is also cited as a reason for the growing number of sexual offenses by senior citizens.
Behind all these surging elderly crimes are poverty, illness and loneliness.
Korea has the highest poverty rate for the elderly among 34 OECD members, with about 49 percent of Koreans age 65 or older categorized as poor in 2011. The poverty rate for seniors who live alone is even higher at 74 percent.
A Ministry of Health and Welfare survey of 10,451 seniors last year found that nearly 90 percent had chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. One in three senior citizens suffers from depression, and 10 percent said they even had thought about committing suicide.
It is long past time for the government to brace for the surge in elderly crimes in earnest, considering our demographic changes. The number of elderly Koreans will reach 6.62 million this year, and the figure is forecast to surpass 8 million in 2020. If this trend continues, Korea would become a "super-aged'' society ― where more than one in five of the population is 65 or older ― in 2026.
No less worrisome is that the percentage of people who support children's obligations for parents' post-retirement livelihood more than halved from 65 percent in 2002 to 31 percent last year, according to Statistics Korea.
Needless to say, individuals should do what they can to prepare for their later years. But the government, for its part, should make an all-out effort to expand the social safety net and provide jobs and dwellings for the elderly in order to place a curb on rising crimes by the elderly.