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School smoking test breaches students' rights, watchdog says

Schools should refrain from the excessive survey of students who are suspected of smoking to protect the human rights of teenagers, a local watchdog said Thursday.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s warning came after a high-school teacher in Incheon reportedly forced his male student to fill a paper cup with the teenager’s urine in front of the teacher in October last year to detect whether the student had smoked.

The student later filed a complaint with the NHRCK. He claimed that it was a violation of human rights to treat him like a criminal by forcing him to take a urine test.

Participants pose for a photo at an event to celebrate the declaration of Student Rights Day on Jan. 26 in Seoul. Yonhap
Participants pose for a photo at an event to celebrate the declaration of Student Rights Day on Jan. 26 in Seoul. Yonhap
The school, however, refuted this by saying that such a test was necessary to prevent students from mixing the urine with water so as not to get caught.

The school, which promotes anti-smoking programs, has taken various measures to curb teenage smoking. It allows urine tests to be conducted upon students’ consent whenever they are suspected of smoking in school.

“The human rights of students must be better respected during smoking crackdown and anti-smoking measures. Although the school says it has conducted the test upon their consent, the consent itself is unlikely to have been voluntary,” said the watchdog.

Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education has recommended schools to use a carbon monoxide measuring instrument for smoking tests rather than urine tests, after a similar incident took place in another school in the city in 2013.

South Korea has often faced criticism for placing discipline above the protection of the human rights of students, including banning students from growing their hair out, wearing makeup and expressing religious beliefs.

“There’s a prevalent social perception that students are immature. The basic value of human rights is mutual understanding. If the way teachers treat students is applicable to adults, it is not human rights violation. They need to treat them the same as they treat adults,” said youth welfare professor Kim Yoon-na from Seoul Cyber University.

In light of such criticism, municipalities have been moving to better ensure student rights, such as by enacting ordinances.

Since 2010, starting with Gyeonggi Province, more than 15 cities and provinces have introduced human rights ordinances for students.

These comprehensively cover issues such as freedom of expression, religion, physical punishment and regulations regarding hairstyle and attire.

In January, the Seoul Metropolitan Government Office of Education declared Jan. 26 as Student Rights Day. It vowed to map out a set of measures to boost the rights of teenage students.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (

Korea Herald Youtube