Korean courts handed down two high-profile rulings on Friday, finding two women guilty of killing their stepchildren as a result of child abuse amid mounting public anger over the cases.
In the first case, the Daegu District Court sentenced a South Korean woman to a 10-year prison term on child abuse charges for beating her 8-year-old stepdaughter to death.
The 36-year-old woman, surnamed Lim, was accused of punching and kicking the young girl multiple times last August in their home in Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province. The girl died from peritonitis, or inflammation of the abdominal lining, two days after the incident took place.
The court also handed down a three-year jail term to the girl’s biological father, identified by his last name Kim, for child abuse. He was taken into custody immediately after the ruling.
“We view the testimony of the young girl’s sister as reliable but the defendants still deny the allegations and show no sign of remorse,” Judge Kim Sung-yeob said in his ruling.
The prosecution, which initially asked the court to sentence the woman to 20 years of imprisonment, decided to appeal, saying the court’s sentence was too light.
Hours after the ruling in Daegu, another woman in Ulsan was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for killing her 8-year-old stepdaughter after breaking 16 of her ribs in a beating.
In addition to child abuse, the Ulsan District Court added a murder count to the charges against the woman, surnamed Park, calling it involuntary manslaughter.
The prosecution, which initially sought the death penalty against the woman, said it would appeal.
With the two court verdicts handed out on the same day, many angry responses were reported in the local media, mostly arguing that the court rulings were “soft” on the stepmothers and that Lim should have been charged with murder.
“How is it possible that the stepmother gets only 10 years for beating a child to death? An innocent girl died. She should have been sentenced to death,” a 50-year-old member of a civil rights organization told media after the ruling.
Lim was indicted last August for physically abusing her 8-year-old stepdaughter and neglecting to take her to a hospital despite severe abdominal pain from ruptured organs.
The girl’s 12-year-old biological sister was also indicted at the time, as she was forced by her stepmother to falsely testify that she kicked her sister in the stomach while fighting over a doll.
The case touched off a wave of public anger when it was revealed that the stepmother had repeatedly abused the children physically and emotionally.
According to the sister’s testimony, Lim put her inside a running washing machine; told the girls to lie that her cousin had raped them; and the father showed her a video of the younger sister dying.
Responding to the public outrage, Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said on Friday the government would take preventive measures and severely punish child abusers to protect young victims.
“I can’t help but feel devastated by the horrible child abuse cases that happened recently in Ulsan and Chilgok,” Hwang said.
Hwang said the Justice Ministry would make full preparations for the smooth implementation of a law preventing child abuse, which is scheduled to go into effect in September.
In addition, under the law that passed in the parliament in December, those convicted of fatally abusing children should be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison up to a maximum of life.
Those convicted of serious abuse that threatens the lives of victims or leaves them disabled or with hard-to-treat illnesses will be punished with at least three years in prison, according to the law.
By Suk Gee-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)