By Yoon Sung-min
Recently, a 13-year old girl, soon-to-be a middle school student was found dead in a water tank on top of a house in a neighborhood of Busan. While she was registered missing for about 10 days, we all hoped that nothing bad would happen to her, such as kidnapping, relentless rape and/or death. These thoughts came in vain. Yes, this is another case that a child is abducted and found dead after being raped by a sexual perpetrator.
In my previous article in The Korea Times, I pointed out that child abuse and neglect is one of the most problematic social issues in South Korea. Children are not properly protected due to lack of adequate laws and services. Since the last heinous rape incident, which an 8-year-old girl was relentlessly raped in a restroom, South Korea drastically appeared poised toward symbolic actions to revamp laws and regulations to protect children from such crime and abuse. However, I have constantly worried that this is not persisting and not enough.
In fact, this girl's life could have been saved if responsible parties had taken appropriate and sufficient measures to secure our children from the hands of sexual transgressors. The suspect, Kim Kil-tae, over the past years was arrested and jailed many times for sexual crimes. He was released from prison in 2008. Each time his actions became worse and crueler, his sentences were lowered for some reason. (Surprisingly, we don't know why. I feel his prison sentences should have been elevated.) A newly enacted law in 2008 requires sex offenders to wear electric tracking devices. This law was not applicable to the suspect of this case since his crimes were committed before the new law took effect. This law should have included his past felonies. Therefore, this is real nonsense.
Although sex offenders' identification and registry is accessible to the public and perpetrators are required to wear some type of tracking device, we would still be unable to prevent similar attacks on children committed by first time offenders. In order to protect our children effectively, South Korea needs to adopt comprehensive child protection laws and regulations, as well as preventive services and programs.
In the United States, like anywhere else, children are not totally free from such sexual and homicidal crimes. However, the Busan girl's case could have been prevented here for the following reasons.
First, the suspect would still be serving his prison term. In the United States, crimes against children, especially sexual acts and/or violence, most likely carry a maximum federal sentence depending on the jurisdiction. There is no chance for these suspects to walk the streets looking for the next potential victims.
Secondly, if released, this suspect would have been registered, tracked and monitored by electronic tracking devices. The suspect would register his presence in the local community, and his residency would be restricted. In some states, he would be confined to a mental health institution after he completed his sentence. These measures would prevent him from committing any future crimes.
Lastly, this girl would not have been going out alone due to our strong child abuse and neglect laws. It is a crime for a parent or legal guardian to leave a child unsupervised, even for a short period of time. Although there is no legal age, any child 13 years of age or younger should be accompanied by a responsible adult. In South Korea, I was very surprised to see that children even as young as 6 go unaccompanied to a store or beauty salon in an apartment complex.
Once again, we watch and see a mother weep for her daughter while others look with pity and sorrow. Given our strong stance on child abuse, neglect and sexual crimes, these measures should be considered the very minimum so that we can protect our children properly. This isn't the time to cry and regret ― rather a time to reflect and take swift actions on policy and legislations.
The Koreatimes, 03-14-2010