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[Newsmaker] Welfare minister apologizes for controversial comment on child-on-child sexual abuse

The Ministry of Health and Welfare apologized Tuesday for a comment from the minister regarding a child-on-child sexual abuse case that has drawn public outrage.

Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo said Monday morning that a recent incident of a prepubescent child’s molestation of another child at a kindergarten in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, was part of “natural behavior over stages of development.”

“But it poses a problem when that behavior is expressed in excess,” he said, adding that the case “should not be judged as ‘sexual violence’ from adults’ point of view.”

Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo (Yonhap)
Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo (Yonhap)

Park’s comment, spoken at a meeting of the National Assembly’s health and welfare committee, quickly sparked controversy.

The Welfare Ministry said in a press release later that evening that the minister’s comment “failed to take into consideration the child victim and her parents’ feelings,” and apologized accordingly on the minister’s behalf.

The ministry said it would work with the Seongnam city office and police, as well as child protection institutions, to devise measures in response.

But criticism over the Monday remarks did not subside following the apology, with calls mounting for the minister’s removal.

A petition demanding the minister step down was posted on the Cheong Wa Dae website and Twitter hashtags urging his resignation began to trend by Tuesday morning.

Last month, the parents of a 5-year-old girl filed a complaint with a center for victims of sexual violence claiming their daughter had been sexually assaulted by a boy of the same age.

On Monday, the father of the victim wrote on the presidential office website’s petition page that his daughter had been “undressed in front of peers and sexually harmed.” He said the abuse included anal and genital penetration by finger.

He said closed-circuit TV footage from Oct. 15 at the kindergarten where the incident occurred showed the girl pulling up her pants coming out from behind a desk with four boys, and that a medical examination on Nov. 6 confirmed physical findings associated with sexual abuse.

The father asked for state measures to protect children and juveniles from sex offenses in cases where the abuser is also a minor. Under the current law, a child perpetrator is not subject to punishment.

Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency said Tuesday it launched investigation into the case “to determine the factual circumstances.”

By Kim Arin (