The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Without children, we have no future

By Korea Herald

Published : June 14, 2023 - 05:30

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Recently, in a school zone in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, a bus hit and killed a second grader who was crossing the street with the “Walk” signal. The bus driver did not come to a full stop while making a right turn at the red light. The little boy’s father witnessed the tragic scene while waiting for his young son from the other side of the street.

This kind of traffic accident is rare in advanced countries. In the US, for example, in states where turning on red lights is allowed, cars must stop fully before making a right turn on a red light. If you do not abide by this rule, you will get a ticket from the police. In school zones, American drivers are especially cautious before school starts and right after school ends. The penalty for traffic violations in school zones is very severe in the US. At crosswalks, too, American drivers exert special caution by slowing down and patiently waiting until pedestrians fully cross the street. If they do not, they could be violating state law, the penalty for which is heavier than that for local laws.

The Korean bus driver above violated all of the following three traffic laws: He did not stop at the red light, he did not slow down in the school zone and he did not wait for the pedestrian to cross. Consequently, his carelessness took a child’s precious life and devastated that child's family. The tragic accident also ruined the bus driver’s career and life. The problem is that similar accidents happen all too frequently in South Korea. Given that's the case, a question arises, “Why do so many Korean drivers not abide by traffic laws?”

Perhaps one of the reasons is that penalties are not severe enough, and thus drivers are not afraid of breaking traffic laws. While South Korea since 2019 has had the "Min-sik Law" that maximizes penalties for drivers who violate traffic laws in a school zone, traffic accidents in school zones have not decreased radically as a result.

Perhaps, then, another reason is the lack of a law-abiding attitude, especially by bus drivers. Instead of assuming a keen sense of responsibility as a public transportation driver, they may think that they can ignore the traffic rules and regulations when they are behind schedule and in a hurry. In addition, they might wrongfully think that strictly obeying traffic laws is a sign of weakness or a lack of manliness.

Traffic accidents frequently happening in school zones also reflect our lack of respect for children or care for the vulnerable. Under the influence of Confucianism, we tend to treat children lightly, thinking they are simply minors who are inferior to adults. In addition, we want to protect our own child, but not necessarily other children on the street. However, adults are responsible for protecting young children in general at all costs.

In the US, children are always priority No. 1, whether they are mine, yours or anyone else's. When you walk on the street with a baby stroller, for example, all the cars abruptly slow down in order to protect the baby from possible accidents. In America, a baby stroller is like an invincible weapon because all the cars instantly stay away from it and people respect it.

American drivers are generally extremely cautious when passing a school zone. Even far away from the school, when a school bus stops on a road to let children off, flashing its red lights, no cars can move to either side of it until the children safely cross the street and the school bus continues on its way.

Having lived in the US for a long time, I have also noticed how dedicated American mothers are when they raise their children. Some mothers give up their jobs to devote themselves to raising their children well. Others who have a job hire a nanny to take their young kids to various private classes such as music, dance or gymnastics. When their children turn 3, many American mothers send them to preschools.

American parents usually send their children to bed early in the evening. We might presume that they do that because they want to have some free time to do something without their children. But in fact, they do it for their children’s sake. American elementary schools start around 8 a.m. and end around 3 p.m. Children must get up early in the morning, by at least 7 a.m., in order to take the school bus at around 7:30 a.m.

Children are our future. If we do not want to have children, and do not raise our children well, we do not have a future. If we drive recklessly and run over other people's children frequently in school zones, we have no future, either. We should value and protect children, respect and appreciate them fully. Only then, can we have a bright future.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.