|▲Child Neglect is Child Abuse|
On September 14, two young brothers in Incheon set their house on fire while trying to cook for themselves. Both remained unconscious in the hospital for over a week. The incident has captured national attention as a cautionary tale. After this incident, concern over the blind spot for child care in socially disadvantaged households has raised.
According to police, neighbors had reported the family to child protection services three times in the past two years. Neighbors said, "The children were so thin that I thought they were kindergarteners." "Late at night, I would hear the cries of the children. The next day I’d asked them why they were crying, and they said it was because they were in the house all by themselves at night."
They had been left home alone by their mother since the day before. After the mother and father had divorced, the mother had been depressed for more than two years and had struggled to take care of her children. Despite the Incheon Child Protection Agency telling her that it was necessary to improve the family’s home environment, she said "I’ll take care of it myself".
After the warning from the Child Protection Agency, there were two reports from the residents. The Child Protection Agency recommended that the children should be separated from their mother. Nevertheless, the court said that instead of separating them from their mother, the family would need to receive counseling once a week. However, counseling couldn’t start right away because of COVID-19.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the chances of neglected children being noticed by people around them, such as teachers, have been significantly reduced. As remote lessons continue, children are staying at home longer than usual. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, teachers could notice child abuse and neglect by noticing children's clothing, health conditions, or mental and emotional state.
As this issue attracts people’s attention, there has been a lot of criticism directed not only towards the neglectful mother, but also against inadequate child protection policy. The children in this situation were participants in child welfare support projects, but they were not properly provided with care services. A major reason for this is that child protection or support is difficult to provide without the consent of the parents.
Also, a fire alarm, which is mandatory to have installed in every residence, was not installed in the family’s house. The Incheon Fire Department said, "We tried to contact the mother several times to install a fire alarm for free earlier this year. We provide free installations for disadvantaged households. However, we couldn't contact her. It is mandatory to have a fire alarm installed in every household, but there are no provisions related to punishment if they are not installed."
The students of Changwon National University are worried about the condition of the children and express their concerns. Kim Kung-Uk, who is in the department of Electrical and Electronic Control, said, “It's such a sad story. I think the cause of the fire is a gas stove. It is too dangerous to be used by young children. I think there is a need for the development of electronic appliances for low-income people. For example, through legal means, some companies could be required to release ultra-low-cost induction stoves so that children from low-income households can be safer while cooking. It is necessary for the government to take action so that the safety of disadvantaged children is not overlooked.
The Incheon Metropolitan Government, the Office of Education, and the Police Agency said they have decided to strengthen their cooperative system to protect children in dangerous situations like abuse and neglect. They will work together to conduct an emergency investigation of child abuse and neglect until October 31. The study will look at preschool children and long-term absenteeism from school. The government will focus on high-risk cases of children exposed to child abuse and outside of the management of the government.
In addition to government and child protection agency measures, community attention is needed to prevent child endangerment. If people witness child abuse or suspect abuse or neglect, people must report it to the Child Protection Center. It is essential to report any suspicion of child endangerment. The reports can be made by calling 112 or visiting a local Child Protection Agency. It's guaranteed that the reporter will remain anonymous. Remember that your report can save a life.
By Kim Da-eun, cub-reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
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