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South Korea to monitor absent students for possible domestic abuse

Following a high profile child abuse case this week reported in Incheon, where a father confined his 11-year-old daughter at home and continually abused her for more than two years, the South Korean government is launching a special investigation nationwide next month on all schoolchildren absent from school for more than a week.

“Normally, when a child is absent for no specific reason for more than a week, a teacher is required to call his or her parents,” said Kim Il-yeol from the Division of Child Rights at the Welfare Ministry. “Following the case in Incheon, we plan to visit the homes of all schoolchildren who haven’t showed up to school for more than a week to make sure they are not being abused at home.”

The 11-year-old victim of the Incheon case managed to escape the house on Dec. 12 by sliding down the drainpipe of the property. She was wearing shorts and was barefoot at the time. She weighed just 16 kilograms and was 120 centimeters tall. 

While being confined, her father and his girlfriend reportedly rarely gave her anything to eat. The girl told police she was constantly physically abused by both of them. According to the police, her father had been addicted to games, while her biological mother left her when the victim was 3 years old.

South Korea has seen a dramatic increase in its number of reported child abuse cases, from 7,406 in 2010 to 15,025 last year, partly due to stricter rules on reports. In 2014, more than 80 percent of the abusers were confirmed to be the parents of the victims.

The Incheon victim initially had attended an elementary school in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, in 2012, before moving to the current residence with her father and his girlfriend in the same year.

Even in Bucheon, the child was reportedly often absent from the school. The girl never came back to school after the summer break in August, leading the teacher to visit her home. A missing report was filed, but it was later confirmed the girl had moved to Incheon with her parents.

After moving to Incheon, the father never notified the city government of his new address, making it impossible for her teacher or education authorities to track her down.

“We are aware of the problems that have been revealed by this case and are thinking of ways to better protect children who don’t show up to school from possible domestic abuse,” said Kim from the Welfare Ministry.

According to the National Child Protection Agency, the victim is currently being treated at a hospital and her condition is getting better. She reportedly told the agency she wants her father to be punished.

Among the 10,027 confirmed child abusers last year, 8,207 were the victims’ parents. The largest number of cases, 33 percent, were caused by the parents’ “lack of knowledge and skills in child care,” such as not being able to differentiate abuse and discipline.

Twenty percent of the cases were triggered by the parents’ social isolation, as well as their stress stemming from financial difficulties. Ten percent of the abusers had conflicts with either their spouse or other family members. Also, a large portion of the abusers, 32.4 percent, were unemployed.

An elementary school teacher, who wished to remain unidentified, said the current system, where a teacher is required to mail a notice to a student‘s house when he or she is absent consecutively for more than a week, is ineffective.

“We are required to send the notice to the address that is written on the student’s legal documents, such as his or her ID,” she told The Korea Herald. “But there is no way for us to find out whether or not he or she actually lives there. The best way would be to visit the student in person and find out if he or she is physically okay.”

According to the National Child Protection Agency, there are only 37 shelters nationwide for children who have abusive parents and are unable to live with them. Those shelters together can house just 250 children.

By Claire Lee (

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