In Korea, the main governing law regarding “child abuse” is the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, etc. of Child Abuse Crimes (아동학대범죄의 처벌 등에 관한 특례법). This new law came into effect on September 29, 2014.
I. What are “Child Abuse Crimes?”
1. “Child” (아동) refers to anyone under the age of 18 (international age).
2. “Child Abuse” (아동학대) refers to the following acts perpetrated by any adult (to a child):
1) Doing harm to a child’s health or welfare; or
2) Committing physical, mental or sexual violence; or
3) Inflicting cruel acts that are likely to impede normal growth of a child.
Also, “Child Abuse” includes abandoning or neglecting a child, by his/her guardian.
FYI, “guardian” (보호자) refers to a person who is legally/contractually obligated (at the time) to look after the child.
3. “Child Abuse Crimes” (아동학대범죄) refer to any type of “Child Abuse” perpetrated specifically by the guardian of the child. By the strict letter of the law, this includes “corporal punishment.”
II. Reporting “Child Abuse Crimes”
1. Anyone May Report
Anyone who even suspects a “Child Abuse Crime” may report it to the authorities. The number is 112 (i.e., the police). It’s available 24/7. The key here is that one need not have definitive knowledge. Mere suspicion okay!
2. Some Must Report
Some workers/professionals have an affirmative legal obligation to report “Child Abuse Crimes.” A duty to report even in mere suspicion. Generally speaking, a worker/professional officially engaged in work relating to children (e.g., education) will have a duty to report. This includes all “school personnel” and even “hagwon managers, instructors, and personnel.”
FYI, Article 19 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (초ㆍ중등교육법) defines “school personnel” as follows:
Article 19 (Classification of School Personnel)
(1) The following teachers shall be assigned to schools:
1. Elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, civic schools, high civic schools, high technical schools and special schools shall have principals, assistant principals, advanced skills teachers and teachers: Provided, That any school which is smaller than a certain scale prescribed by Presidential Decree among schools with not more than 100 students or not more than 5 classes may not have an assistant principal;
2. Various kinds of schools shall have required teachers in the manner described in subparagraph 1.
(2) Schools shall have personnel in addition to teachers, such as administrative personnel necessary for the operation of schools.
(3) Schools may have teachers holding positions who share school affairs among teachers to ensure the smooth operation of schools.
(4) Matters necessary for the number of teachers and personnel (hereinafter referred to as “school personnel”) to be assigned to schools shall be prescribed by Presidential Decree, specific assignment standards by level of school shall be determined by guidance and supervision organization referred to in Article 6 (hereinafter referred to as “competent authorities”) and the Minister of Science, Education and Technology shall report the matters on the number of teachers to the National Assembly each year.
– Translation by KLRI (Korea Legislation Research Institute)
III. Punishment for Failure to Report
A relevant worker/professional who fails to report a “Child Abuse Crime” could face a fine (과태료) of up to 5 million won. In October 2014, 3 middle school teachers in Gangwon-do were each fined (1.5 million won) for failure to report a “Child Abuse Crime.” This was the first such case. It seems that the teachers were fully aware that a female student in their class was habitually being abused by her parents. Reports say the parents were being physically abusive. They even forcefully cut her hair as punishment. The teachers were fully aware, yet did nothing.
It should be noted that failure to report is not a crime. Unlike “벌금,” a fine in the form of “과태료” (i.e., administrative fine) means the corresponding violation is not a crime. So, such a violation will not end up on one’s criminal record.
Above was the old government pamphlet. Since September 2014, the maximum administrative fine (for failure to report) has been upped to 5 million won (from 3 million). Also, the number to call now is 112.
IV. Reporting vs. Intervening Directly
Once reported, the police (or child protection agency personnel) are required to respond “w/o delay.” They will go investigate and take the appropriate “emergency measures.” If serious, the child can even be removed or taken to a protective/medical facility for a maximum of 72 hours (which can be extended). If deemed necessary, the judge can further take “temporary measures” such as issuing a restraining order.
But, what about intervening directly? If you read the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, etc. of Child Abuse Crimes, you’ll notice it says nothing about a 3rd party’s right to intervene directly. In such case, Article 21 of the Criminal Act (형법) could apply. Yes, the “self-defense” clause. In Korea, “self-defense” includes “defense of others.” So, if you witness firsthand a “Child Abuse Crime” being perpetrated, you would have the (legal) right to physically intervene directly.
V. What Lies Ahead
I recently read that the number of “child abuse” reports have gone up in the last couple of months (which is good). Still, some experts point out we desperately need more budget. For instance, with the current level of staff/personnel, it’s sometimes hard to respond “w/o delay.” Also, we need better ways to protect the identities of those who actually make the reports. Many Koreans are still averse to reporting lest they fall victim to some form of retaliation from the abusive (and maybe hot-tempered) parents.
Above is an informative video clip on preventing/reporting “child abuse.” It was distributed by the National Child Protection Agency (중앙아동보호전문기관) right after the new law came into effect.
Thanks for reading!