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Children's Rights in Korea

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  • Sunny Jo
    Children s Rights in Korea The development of ideas about childhood and the rights of children was, in Europe, the background to the UN centred process of
    Message 1 of 1 , May 2, 2003
      Children's Rights in Korea

      The development of ideas about childhood and the rights of children was,
      in Europe, the background to the UN centred process of international
      standard setting for children. Meanwhile there were also developments
      in the discussion about the theory and nature of rights. As we have
      seen in the previous section, in Japan too there was a significant
      amount of discussion of what it might mean to say that children have
      rights even if this had little influence on the development of
      mainstream policies towards children until the 1980s. It did however
      mean that at the same time that discussion was taking place at the
      international level on the formulation of the international covenant
      there was also interest in the issue emerging among the domestic 'human
      rights community'. There was pressure from them within Japan to have
      the state ratify the treaty and groups were vocal in demanding its more
      effective implementation.

      The RoK was far less influenced by the process of international standard
      setting in this area. It is not too much to say that South Korea
      ratified the CRC in 1991 less out of serious concern for protecting the
      rights of the children of Korea than out of the perceived need to
      improve its international image. It had ratified the two main
      international treaties in the previous year; ratification of the CRC was
      an obvious next step. Moreover formal recognition of the CRC did not
      immediately lead to any new initiatives by the government neither did it
      provoke a great deal of interest in children's rights issues. Few
      academics seem interested and social movement groups have not focused
      much on children's rights issues with the result that at the time of
      writing there are only meagre resources which can be used to inform this
      section. No history of Korean children has so far been written, there
      is no analysis of the role played by children in the twentieth century
      development of Korea, no extended discussion exists of the gap between
      the Korean government's formal commitment to protecting and promoting
      the rights of children and the daily reality faced by them in Korea. To
      the extent that there has been any degree of serious interest in
      children's rights in the last decade it can be ascribed mainly to the
      impact of the UN process rather than spontaneous interest.


      Not enough has been written in English or in Korean on pre-modern
      attitudes to childhood in Korea for it to be possible to begin this
      section with a sketch of 'traditional' attitudes to children. It is
      clear that the ideal patterns of the traditional family in Korea with
      its emphasis on genetic lineage and strong Confucian ideology produced a
      family structure quite different from that in Japan. Nevertheless the
      restructuring of Korean society that took place in the first half of the
      twentieth century under the influence of Japanese controlled
      modernisation and urbanisation undermined many of these social
      structures which were replaced by social forms that were influenced by
      Japanese models.

      It is hard to tell how far indigenous ideas of children and childhood
      have informed policies towards children in the late twentieth century
      but there is some evidence of a plurality of views about children in the
      late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Baek and Lee in an article
      based on an examination of pre-modern textbooks used in the education of
      children identify three distinct attitudes to children in Sunglihak,
      Shilhak and Tonghak thought. Sunglihak, the mainstream, orthodox
      neo-Confucian system of ideas located children within a hierarchy in
      which they were ascribed relatively low status that did not encourage
      people to respect children. Children were regarded as basically good but
      in order to mature they needed to be educated so that they might better
      serve the hierarchical order. Children should obey their parents in the
      same way as all members of society have an obligation to serve their
      superiors in society. As childhood, defined as the period up to the age
      of 15 for women and 20 for men, is regarded as a period of preparation
      for becoming human it is not possible to speak of treating children as

      Shilhak (Practical Learning) thought was influenced by western
      scientific thought and the positivism of Ch'ing dynasty China.
      (Yung-chun Kim 1982: 195) It shared the orthodox view of children as
      basically good but it encouraged a more objective observation of
      children as the basis for ideas of education. They too viewed the child
      before the age of 15 as immature in both body and mind and agreed that
      it is important to educate them to play their allotted role with the
      social hierarchy.

      Tonghak thought was a radical challenge to orthodoxy concerning children
      as in most other areas. They argued that children, particularly babies
      had a purity and goodness because they carry with them the spirit of
      reason and nature of heaven with them in their bodies. Because of this,
      not only should children be treated as equal to adults but they had
      qualities from which adults could learn: children can teach adults.
      This was not to deny the need for education, without which children were
      no better than animals. Nevertheless the education process should treat
      children with respect and therefore they should not be subject to
      corporal punishment nor should teachers shout at them. Whereas the
      Confucian sets of ideas only regarded children as valuable and worthy of
      respect as future adults, Tonghak thought argued that children's lives
      are important both in the present and in the future. (Baek and Lee 1997:

      Sunglihak and Shilhak were philosophies that no doubt reflected the
      attitudes of those who sought to influence the ideas of the ruling
      elites, the only ones whose children received formal education. It is
      tempting to think that the Tonghak ideas drew from attitudes to children
      which were rooted in the peasant class which questioned the Confucian
      view of children as dependent on or belonging to adults. Whether or not
      this is true, even the small amount of evidence that we have clearly
      indicates that even before the arrival of Christianity, liberalism,
      socialism or even the Japanese, there was more than one way of thinking
      about children in Korea.

      During the 1920s, in the period of relaxation of Japanese colonial
      control, not only did workers and peasants groups form and struggle for
      their rights and against Japanese imperialism but there were also Youth
      Groups which took part in the various anti-Japanese activities. This
      was also a period of relaxation of control over intellectual life which
      permitted the re-emergence of heterodoxy. Pang Chong-hwan (1899-1931)
      was the son-in-law of the second generation leader of the Tonghak
      movement, by now called the Ch'ondogyo, and he became an active
      proponent of child rights ideas in the 1920s. In 1921 he proposed that
      in place of the somewhat derogatory expression ai, children should be
      referred to as orini, a more respectful alternative. That same year he
      held a parade on 1 May to demand greater respect for children and later
      suggested that this become an annual event. Pang, commonly known as
      Sopap, the 'little ripple' continued to develop and propagate his ideas
      about children until his death in the 1930s. (Interview with Yi Bae
      Yeun) Meanwhile educators in Korea were also strongly influenced by the
      liberal ideas of John Dewey which were brought into Korea by Christian

      In the Spring of 1919 there were youth groups formed in several parts of
      the country echoing the demands for independence that were being voiced
      by adults, several of them were arrested and imprisoned. In 1923 youth
      groups were formed by Ch'ondogyo supporters and socialists respectively
      and in the following year an association of youth groups was formed in
      Seoul which decided to designate 1 May as Children's Day and commit
      itself to 'social progress'. At a meeting held on 1 May 1923 a
      declaration of the rights of Korean Children was proclaimed with three
      main points:

      - that children be regarded as human beings with full dignity and free
      from traditional oppression,

      - that children under 14 should not have to work,

      - that facilities for play should be provided by the family and by
      (PSPD 1997: 32)

      Inevitably the youth groups became involved in the debates both between
      the nationalists and socialists and within the socialist movement but
      they also campaigned on 'child' issues. For example, at a meeting in
      1926 the Korean Youth League committed itself to advocate and represent
      the rights and interests of Korean youth and more specifically they
      declared their opposition to the trade in (presumably female) young
      people, to young marriage (under 18), to the employment of young people
      in dangerous occupations and to any employment of children. (Mun & Koh
      1981: 376-8) The celebration of a Children's Day on the first Sunday in
      May had become an event of national significance by the end of the 1920s
      and it was widely reported in newspapers.

      Tolerance for the increasingly radical social movement groups evaporated
      and they were closed down by the police during the 1930s as Japan
      prepared its colonies for mobilisation behind the war effort.
      Unorthodox ideas whether indigenous or foreign in inspiration were also
      treated harshly by the colonial regime and no real free intellectual
      enquiry or social activity was possible in Korea until the 1990s.

      Children's Rights in the RoK

      Despite the pioneering work of liberal and socialist child rights
      activists in the 1920s, just as human rights in general have not been
      taken seriously by the government until the 1990s, so the topic of the
      rights of the child barely surfaced within the minds of most Koreans,
      even those active in human rights groups.

      There was some interest in children though. The transitional government
      committed itself in the late 1940s to child protection policies
      forbidding the employment of any child under 12 and the employment of
      those under 18 in dangerous occupations. Ma Hae-song (1905-1966) and a
      caucus of writers developed the idea of a charter for children in the
      early 1950s and submitted a proposal to the welfare ministry. A charter
      was adopted in 1957, endorsed by the President, and children would read
      it out at ceremonies held in school on 5 May. The Charter's preamble
      affirms 'the equal rights without distinction of all children to receive
      respect as the emerging future generation and to enjoy the opportunity
      of developing with rectitude and self-assurance'. The eleven point
      document suggests that children should, 'be born under healthy
      circumstances and nurtured in a warm and loving home' (Article 1);
      'receive an education in good facilities' (Article 3); ' value their
      great national cultural tradition' (Article 4); be protected from all
      harmful social conditions and dangers (Article 8). (Cheong Key-won
      1994: 97-8) However the charter does not use the language of rights.
      It is at best a set of aspirations with no indication of how they might
      be implemented, which government agency might be responsible for their
      implementation, or what redress was possible when they were not
      implemented. Nevertheless they are said to have provided the basis for
      child welfare policies and they are broadly similar to the UN
      Declaration of 1959 with its emphasis on child protection and child
      welfare. Possibly in response to the UN declaration, a Child Welfare
      Law was passed in 1961. In 1975, May 5 was designed as 'Children's
      Day', a national holiday.

      Article 6 in the 1957 charter referred to the need to provide food for
      starving children. Economic improvements in Korea meant that by the
      1980s this was no longer a problem and children would giggle when they
      read this section out so it was decided to revise the document and a new
      version of the charter was issued by Roh Tae-woo on 5 May 1988. The
      following year the minister for Youth and Athletics announced the need
      for a new charter to cover children from 0-24. As a compromise it was
      agreed that a document be devised for those 'youths' from 9-24, though
      there is no plausible explanation why the age of 24 was selected. This
      has paragraphs on the importance of youths themselves, their relation to
      home, school, society and nation. At each level youths are encouraged
      to develop wholesome attitudes. (Cheong Key-won 1994: 99) There were
      proposals in 1998 for the creation of another version of this charter.
      (Interview Yi Bae-yeun)

      The Japanese colonial authorities and the Rhee regime had encouraged
      large families to provide cheap labour and manpower for their armies to
      protect the empire or, in Rhee's case, to fight the DPRK. However the
      Park regime gave its full backing to family planning, endorsing the
      Planned Parenthood Federation of Korea and its slogan 'small families
      for a prosperous Korea.' This campaign along with a rise in the age of
      marriage and an increase in wedlock abortion led to dramatic decreases
      in the birth rate. The number of births per woman was 6 in 1960, this
      stood at 4.5 in 1970 and 2.7 in 1980 and in 1992 it had fallen below
      replacement level to 1.6. This pattern is very similar to the one we
      have described in Japan and one might predict that it could fall still
      further particularly in the crowded conurbations. According to
      government statistics the number of children under 18 in 1980 was just
      over 40% of the total population. This will drop to 25% by 2000.
      (Cheong Key-won 1994: 101) This compares to children making up 20.4% of
      the population of Japan in 1994. Demographic change provides the
      background in which child rights ideas have been introduced into Korea.
      Several informants commented that recent changes in attitudes towards
      children are related to the fact that most couples have only one or two
      children compared to the large families of the past.

      The Korean government defines a child as a person under the age of 18,
      although people under the age of 20 are legally minors with no right to
      vote or enter into civil contracts unless they are married. As in
      Japan, girls may marry at 16 or above, boys 18 or above with the
      permission of their parents or the courts. Criminal acts by those less
      than twenty are dealt with under the juvenile crime legislation.
      Criminal Acts by those under the age of 14 are not covered by the Penal
      Code but treated as 'protection cases' in Family courts. One must be 16
      to get a license to ride a motor bike, 18 to drive a car, 20 legally
      purchase alcohol or tobacco. There is no minimum age for giving
      evidence in court but only children over 15 have the right to express an
      opinion in civil cases such as those involving divorce or adoption.

      The pattern of the school system is like that in Japan, based on the US
      system: six years of primary school followed by 3 years junior high
      school, 3 years senior high school after which graduates may go to
      universities or colleges. Education became compulsory for the first six
      years in 1948 and was extended to nine years in 1984. In 1996 99.9%
      children leaving elementary schools went on to junior high school, 98.9%
      junior high school graduates entered senior high school and 54.9% of
      those leaving senior high schools continued their education in
      universities or colleges of some kind. (Ministry of Education: 18)
      However as recently as 1970 the rates of progression to education beyond
      primary school were relatively low as can be seen by the following

      Table X Educational Progression in Korea 1970-1995

      Primary to Junior High School Junior High School to Senior High School
      Senior High School to College
      1970 66.1 70.1 26.9
      1975 77.2 74.7 25.8
      1980 95.8 84.5 27.2
      1985 99.2 90.7 36.4
      1990 99.8 95.7 33.2
      1995 99.9 98.4 51.4

      Ministry of Education, nd: 18.

      The significance of this is that by the 1990s childhood in Korea had
      become practically synonymous with a school centred life, a major change
      over a period of twenty-five years.

      UNICEF has been the main NGO interested in Korean children during the
      post-war period but its role has changed during the late 1980s and early
      1990s from being a channel through which charity and aid from the
      outside world flowed into Korea to being an institution which, while
      mindful of the situation of children in Korea, was increasingly an
      organisation which raised funds in Korea to be distributed to children
      in less developed countries. Reflecting this, in 1993/4 UNICEF changed
      from being a field office into a national committee.

      UNICEF acted as an advocate of the CRC in Korea from the time the
      convention was adopted by the UNGA. It sponsored a series of one minute
      cartoons on commercial television in 1989 as well as a series of
      seminars, conferences and meetings later in the year. Early in 1990 it
      organised a group of about 40 lawyers to review Korean domestic law in
      the light of the standards of the CRC. They suggested ratification
      would require the revision of the Nationality Act, the law on adoption
      and the introduction of the notion a child's right to maintain personal
      relations with separated parents (as compared to the parent's rights of
      access to children which is all that was assured by law at that time).
      (UNICEF 1990) It is not clear what effect the UNICEF lobbying had on
      the government's decision to ratify in 1991, probably not very much. A
      lawyers' group to support children's rights was created and it held a
      few seminars with UNICEF but it did not develop into an ongoing

      The RoK government ratified the CRC in November 1991 making minor
      reservations with respect to three articles: article 9 which deals with
      adoption, article 21 on the rights to see parents and article 40 on the
      treatment of children in courts during times of martial law. UNICEF has
      urged government to make domestic reforms to eliminate these
      reservations but the official position is that they 'are not considered
      as having a great influence on children's rights'. (Cheong Key-won 1994:

      An obvious impact of the ratification was the introduction of the
      obligation of the RoK government to submit an initial report and then
      periodic reports to the UN Children's Rights Committee.

      The Initial Report to the UN CRC

      The RoK initial report under the terms of the CRC was due in 1993 but
      was not in the end submitted until November 1994 - prima facie evidence
      for some critics that the government was not taking its international
      obligations seriously. Government did not consult with the NGOs working
      on children's issues in the formation of the report. However UNICEF did
      host two seminars which were attended by representatives of some of the
      NGOs and UNICEF had some influence on the final report, so government
      could claim there had been a degree of indirect consultation. The final
      version of the report was put together by one man, Dr Cheong Key-won,
      director of the Welfare Policy Division of the Korean Institute of
      Health and Social Affairs (KIHSA) which is attached to the MHW. Dr
      Cheong collected the basic data for the report from the various
      ministries - education, justice, labour - and he claims to have shown
      early versions of the report to the NGOs and incorporated their
      comments. His report was submitted unamended by the MHW to the MFA
      which then forwarded the document for consideration by the UN CRC.

      The report was published by the KIHSA in September 1994 in English and
      Korean with the title. 'The Legal, Institutional and Administrative
      Measures for Improving the Rights of the Child'. As the title suggests,
      the report is a fairly dry document providing basic statistics about
      children and an outline of how children's welfare and protection is
      provided within the Korean legal and administrative system. It briefly
      describes an 'Action Plan' devised to implement the Declaration of
      General Protection and Development of Children adopted at the World
      Summit for Children in June 1991. This focused on the improvement of
      health care and living conditions for disadvantaged children. There are
      places where the report accepts that RoK performance has not entirely
      lived up to its obligation, 'The RoK did not take concrete steps to
      publicise the provisions and principles of the Convention'. Later the
      report admits, 'it is hard to say that children's rights presented in
      the Convention are fully exercised in the RoK'. (Cheong Key-won 1994:

      Twenty one NGOs with an interest in children's rights formed a 'Korean
      NGOs Coalition for the Rights of the Child' in February 1995 in order to
      produce an 'alternative' report for the UN committee. Various parts of
      the report were allocated to experts from the different groups and the
      final 17 page document was put together in July ready for submission.
      The report makes four general criticisms of government policy:

      - that it has not made sufficient effort to disseminate the CRC,

      - that it has no intention to re-examine the patriarchal ideology that
      defines a child as the property of his/her parents, which seriously
      hinders Korean society from implementing the CRC,

      - that it does not recognise that a central body is necessary to
      co-ordinate the various government agencies working for the
      implementation of the CRC,

      - that it does not acknowledge the NGO's independent role in
      implementing the CRC nor create channels to collaborate with the NGOs.

      Source: Introduction to Alternative report.

      To summarise the more detailed comments: There is little room for
      respect of children's opinions either in court or in schools. Pupils
      have virtually no freedom of association or assembly as their activities
      are subject to the approval of the school authorities. They are
      strictly forbidden to take part in out-of-school activities especially
      those involving social movement groups while schools direct students to
      participate in government sponsored activities. In various places the
      report expresses concern about child abuse and the inability of the
      welfare system to intervene on behalf of abused children (Issues 15, 20,
      23, 49, 50, 51). Child welfare facilities in general are described as
      'inadequate' and policy for disabled children is said to be based on
      inaccurate statistics and not properly funded. The education system too
      is poorly funded - the government education budget only amounts to 3.6%
      of GNP, while an average household spends 30% of its budget on
      education. The education system is said to 'kill creativity'. Students
      need to be informed of their rights in school so they can 'exercise such
      rights autonomously'. (18.6) The report alleges that juvenile crime is
      not dealt with on the basis of 'separate justice for juveniles' or
      'education rather than punishment' despite government claims. One
      particular recommendation is that juveniles must be granted access to
      counsel not only after prosecution begins, but much earlier during

      I can find no reference to the 'alternative' report in the UN CRC's
      consideration of the RoK Initial report (CRC/C/SR.276, 26 March 1996).
      The Korean delegation did mention at the session in Geneva the creation
      of a 'National Committee on the Rights of the Child' which had been
      formed in August 1995, 'to disseminate the Convention, to train persons
      who are in contact with children about the principles and provisions of
      the Convention, to urge the Government to promote all the rights of the
      child recognised in the Convention, to monitor the activities for
      implementing the convention and to co-ordinate government and
      non-government activities relating to the convention'. (CRC/C/SR.276, 26
      March 1996 :4) This looks like the government response to one of the
      NGOs' main criticisms. The UN committee discussed in some detail the
      reasons for the reservations on articles 9.3, 21 and 40.2 (b)(v). There
      was particular concern among members (as with the NGOs) that there were
      insufficient guarantees for the protection of the 'best interests' of
      the child in adoption proceedings.

      In its concluding observations the committee expressed its concern about
      the lack of effort to publicise the CRC and suggests the need to prevent
      the abandonment of children and to eliminate corporal punishment. It
      suggests that RoK ratify the 1993 Hague Convention of Protection of
      Children and Co-operation in respect of Inter Country Adoption. It
      recommends the introduction of further measures to prevent child abuse
      and domestic violence, the creation of an ombudsman or independent
      complaint monitoring mechanism and a comprehensive reform of the system
      of juvenile justice in the spirit of the CRC and other UN standards such
      as the 'Beijing Rules' and 'Riyadh Guidelines'. (CRC/C/15/Add51 CRC 11th
      session. Concluding Observations of the CRC, RoK)

      The impact of CRC ratification is not easy to assess. Interviews with
      MHW officials in 1995 just produced the assertion that it was not
      necessary to change regulations or practice in Korea as government
      policy was already working in compliance with the spirit of the CRC. In
      1997 bureaucrats in the same ministry while still accepting that no
      fundamental changes had taken place in child care policy, suggested to
      me that the protection of children and the promotion of the rights now
      had a higher priority than before ratification of the CRC . (Interviews
      MHW 5 July 1995, 8 Sept. 1997) Lawyers who take on cases involving
      children suggest that criminal cases involving juveniles are now being
      resolved more quickly than in the past. (Yu and Lee, 10 Sept. 1997)
      More generally the ratification of the UN convention has encouraged some
      research on children's rights issues.

      Current Issues

      The CRC still has not received much publicity. In 1997 UNICEF, in
      co-operation with PSPD, published an introduction to the main points of
      the CRC in Korean. This contains advice on handling cases of the
      infringement of children's rights and suggestions for games that can be
      used in activities in schools or elsewhere to make children aware of
      rights issues. Copies of it were said to have been distributed to every
      school in the country. (PSPD 1997) It will however be some time before
      the CRC is widely known in Korea.

      Practically all children in Korea now remain in full-time education
      until they are 18, a significant change in the past 25 years. Those who
      are not in the academic stream are, it is alleged, 'dumped' in
      vocational schools. School and class sizes are often large, in areas
      around Seoul there are schools with 20 classes per year and 50 students
      in each class. School violence is perceived to be a major and increasing
      problem. While some critics blame government policy and urge respect
      for children's rights within education, conservatives blame liberal
      influences and see the solution to the problem as increased regulation
      of children's activity.

      We can see one manifestation of this in the Law on the Protection of
      Youth which came into effect on 1 July 1997. To some extent this law
      simply tidied up the legal inconsistencies on the definition of youth
      which had been either 18 or 20: now 18 is the main age threshold. The
      law has three sections. The first is about access to alcohol, drugs and
      tobacco. The second is about access to 'harmful' places, chiefly bars
      or similar places. Here the laws revised up from 14 to 18 the ages that
      people can work in such places. Finally, there are new restrictions
      placed on access to harmful media. The original intention of this,
      apparently, was simply to introduce a law which focused on this third
      area but that would have aroused too much opposition. By making the law
      more comprehensive in addressing youth protection it won approval in the
      National Assembly.

      The law established a Council for Youth Protection which can examine any
      piece of published media. Staff will randomly sample films, books and
      other publications and if they are found to be 'harmful' a report will
      be made to the Council which may instruct the publisher to label it
      'Adults Only' on penalty of a fine. There is no obligation to submit
      items to the council in advance but if an item is designated 'adult'
      after it has been circulated the publisher/distributor will be liable
      for the costs of recalling the product and labelling it. To avoid any
      such costs most companies will therefore submit items for approval prior
      to distribution. This, it is feared, will put a great deal of power in
      the hands of the Council particularly since it is given a very vague
      definition of 'harmful' which includes having an anti-social or immoral
      influence on the formation of the character of young people or their
      civic consciousness. (Par. 10.4) In September 1997 a booklet circulated
      by a small left wing group to be given away free in book shops and which
      was unrelated to sex or violence had come to the attention of the
      committee's investigators and was designated as harmful to youth.

      While not doubting the value of protecting young people from genuine
      pornography, lawyers argue that the law may well be used to restrict the
      freedom of expression of those under 18. It is even suggested that one
      explicit aim of the law is to enable government better to control
      student activism which is spreading to high schools. (Interviews at
      Minbyun 22 Aug. 1997, MHW 8 Sept., Lee Hyun-gun 11 Sept. 1997)

      The late 1980s/early 1990s were, as we have seen, a time when government
      control over civil society was relaxing and various bodies emerged as
      pressure groups and interest organisations. This is reflected in the
      area of education and child protection issues.

      Since the late 1980s teachers have been demanding the right to organise
      their own union as part of a set of demands to democratise education. A
      Korean Federation of Teachers was formed in the 1950s but served the
      government rather than working for the welfare of teachers. An early
      attempt to organise an independent teachers union was closed down by
      Park Chung-hee in May 1961. There were teachers involved at the grass
      roots of the democratisation movement in 1987 and the various local
      groups came together to form the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers
      Union (KTU) in 1989. Obviously fearing that this might interfere with
      the governmental control of education the Roh Tae-woo declared the union
      illegal, arrested 107 teachers and had 1500 dismissed. This did not
      prevent its growth and by 1995 it had 15,000 members and claimed the
      support of a further 35,000. (KTU 1995: 1-2; interview Lee Dong-jin,
      Seoul 1997) Kim Dae-jung promised in his election campaign to make it a
      legal organisation and a bill passed the National Assembly in 1998 which
      made the KTU fully legal as of 1 July 1999. It did however contain some
      restrictions in that teachers were prohibited from taking collective
      action, such as strikes and they continue to be prohibited from engaging
      in political activities. The KTU promised to continue its campaign for
      the democratisation of the education system. It needs to be recognised
      that its conception of democratising educational reform is one that is
      defined as reflecting the opinions of teachers and parents, no mention
      is made of the role that children themselves might play in
      administration of schools or the contribution they might make to
      changing the school environment. On the other hand we should perhaps
      not be too critical. The creation of a teachers union which is
      independent of the state - the limited recognition of teachers rights -
      is a necessary precondition for the creation of a school system in which
      the protection and promotion of children's rights is possible. Having
      won this battle it will be interesting to see how far the KTU is
      prepared to go in its fight for democratisation.

      In 1989 the Korean Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and
      Neglect (KAPCAN) was created following discussions between officials in
      UNICEF and MHW. By the mid 1990s this had developed to create 16
      'reporting' centres and 11 branch offices. It holds workshops twice a
      year at which such topics as school violence, sexual abuse and child
      prostitution have been discussed. It has also had an influence on the
      drafting of legislation on child neglect and abuse (see below).
      (Interview at UNICEF 3 July 1995, 12 Sept. 1997)

      In 1997 a proposal originally developed by KAPCAN was introduced to the
      National Assembly as the Family Violence Bill. This sought to introduce
      a notion of child rights such that, if abuse by parents is proved, the
      state will be able to intervene to separate the child from his/her
      parents - possibly the first time the Korean state has been able to
      intervene within the family. The bill was passed and became effective
      in July 1998. Severe punishments are set and a reporting procedure
      introduced. Article 76 of the Education Law permitted the use of
      corporal punishment in schools. This was revised in December 1997
      although without actually making its use illegal and such punishment is
      still believed to be widely used. Since then proposals have been put
      forward to protect children outside the family in institutions and
      school which at the time of writing are being considered by the
      government. (Interview with Yi Bae-yeun, 1998)

      Korean lawyers have taken an interest in child rights issues, though as
      yet they have not taken on as active a role as their Japanese
      equivalents. The annual publication of the Korea Bar Association on
      human rights issues includes a chapter on Children's Rights. The report
      on 1996 discusses the plans of the MHW to promote an extension of the
      nursery school system in response to the increase in the number of
      married women at work, it considers trends in the living environment
      which may be reducing the quality of children's lives such as the
      increase in traffic around schools which seems to have caused an
      increase in the number of children involved car accidents. While
      recognising bullying in schools as a real problem they are critical of
      the way prosecutors are maintaining lists of potential bullies/criminals
      as an abuse of their power. Finally, the report notes how there were a
      number of reports of sexual abuse of children in 1996 and urges that
      this problem be taken more seriously. (KFBA 1997: 228-235)

      The teaching profession has not explicitly taken up the issue of
      children's rights and the KTU was not one of the groups which
      contributed to the alternative report presented to the CRC in 1995.
      (CHECK) On the other hand, one might expect a teachers' union committed
      'to achieving democratic rights' to be supportive of the implementation
      of international standards such as the CRC but at the same time one can
      imagine some members not being unambiguously enthusiastic about change
      that might be seen to undermine their status at the same time the state
      was granting them a degree of independence. However it is not possible
      to envisage the implementation of notions which seek to promote and
      protect the dignity and autonomy of children within the school or
      society at large unless they have some support from teachers.


      Social change has inevitably influenced the way Korean society defines
      children and childhood. The 1997 law amounted to the recognition that
      it was inappropriate for schoolchildren (= almost all Koreans under 18)
      to be involved in certain occupations such as bars and the
      'entertainment' industry that they had 'traditionally' worked in. At
      the same time the state devised new ways in which it could exert
      patriarchal powers to 'protect' children from new threats to their
      innocence. This following the state's commitment to promote the rights
      of children in its ratification of the CRC.

      The CRC has had only limited influence on this process. It is not
      widely known in Korea, even the government concedes that it has done
      little to publicise it. However the process that resulted in the
      production of the Initial Report to the UN led to the creation of an NGO
      coalition to create the 'Alternative' report which in turn seems to have
      stimulated an interest in children's rights where previously there was
      little or none. In 1996 the first academic conference on children's
      rights was held and its proceedings published the following year. This
      academic organisation may stimulate the development of 'children's
      studies' in Korea which will provide the basis for informed discussion
      of the past, present and future role of children in Korea.

      Although the Youth Protection Law, on balance, probably did more to
      restrict than promote children's rights, the law on child abuse has
      introduced the notion that children have rights even against their
      parents in certain circumstances. This law and the creation of the
      'Council' may even be evidence of the government responding to
      criticisms from the child oriented NGOs and that a child policy is in
      the process of being created.

      On the other hand we should be wary of ascribing too much influence to
      the CRC. The period since 1989 is one in which Korean society had been
      increasingly liberalising and, even if this rate of liberalisation is
      frustratingly slow for many, it is unsurprising that it should have some
      influence even on children. The question that emerges is what might
      have happened had it not been for the CRC and part of the answer to that
      can be found by considering the situation in Taiwan.

      Ian Neary
      University of Essex

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