The South Korean government will toughen penalties for child abuse as public outrage escalated over the death of an 8-year-old girl caused by her stepmother, officials said Thursday.
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, penalties for fatal child abuse will be increased to five years or more in prison. The government will also disallow suspended sentences for such cases without specific mitigating factors.
Under the current child welfare law, the maximum prison term for child abuse is five years. In many cases, light penalties were charged even for child abuse cases that resulted in death.
This is part of the government’s comprehensive anti-child abuse measures finalized in the government’s policy meeting last month following a series of high-profile cases.
Public outrage over the issue soared recently after a 35-year-old woman allegedly beat her stepdaughter to death in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province, last year. It was later revealed that the mother had also forced the victim’s 13-year-old sister to tell the police that she had beaten the younger sister to death.
At the first hearing on Monday, the prosecution sought a 20-year prison term for the woman on charges of inflicting deadly injuries and a seven-year prison term for the biological father for overlooking the child abuse.
The prosecution immediately faced public outrage over the “light” penalty demand, leading hundreds of citizens to file petitions to the court for heavier punishment against the defendants. They also voiced out that the stepmother should face murder charges.
Facing continuous criticism, the prosecution decided Thursday to seek a murder charge against the stepmother. The prosecution, however, said that it would add the new charge in the appellate trial as the first ruling is scheduled Friday, precluding the revision of charges.
As part of the newly released penalty measures, the ministry also said that those inflicting serious injuries on children will face prison terms of more than three years. Child abuse criminals will be banned from working at child-related institutions for up 10 years after they fulfill their sentence, it added.
From late September, child shelter officials and the police will jointly intervene and investigate cases when child abuse reports are received.
Once it is found that the parents committed child abuse, they will be asked to move out and prohibited from contacting their children. Parental rights will temporarily be limited or suspended, the ministry said.
The ministry will also expand the mandatory report system which obligates people in certain job fields to report suspicious child abuse cases. Currently, those in 24 occupation fields are required to report, including doctors and teachers. They will be fined if they do not report the cases.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org)