Committee on the Rights of the Child
21 September 2011
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of the Child has considered the third and fourth combined reports of the the Republic of Korea on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of the Child.
Presenting the report, Park Sang-Ki, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea in Geneva, said that until the 1950s, the Republic of Korea pursued child policies that focused only on helping children in desperate need, such as those impoverished and orphaned. However, since the ratification of the Convention in 1991, they had focused more on policies that considered the rights of the child from a universal human rights perspective.
Yet the Republic of Korea was still witnessing cases of prejudice against children and violations of the rights of the children. There was still progress to be made in order to assure that all children, across the board, were able to grow up with full enjoyment of their due rights. Since they submitted the third and fourth Periodic reports in 2008, the government had engaged in several major initiatives including the amendment of laws and introduction of new systems, in order to further improve the rights of the child.
The Republic of Korea had put forth considerable efforts to withdraw the reservations made to the Convention. The government had already withdrawn its reservation to the child’s right to maintain contact with parents in October 2008 and, as a result, they had only two remaining reservations to the Convention. One of the most significant and recent improvements in this regard was the revision of “the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption” and “the Civil Code” in August 2011.
Experts raised questions concerning, among other matters, the legislative framework, the reservations that the Republic of Korea had formulated, coordination between ministries and programs, children suffering from poverty, migrant children, corporal punishment, the right to be heard, adoption issues and the Hague Convention, issues faced by adolescents such as depression and suicide, the ombudspersons who dealt with children’s rights, the situation of pregnant unwed girls, discrimination, child labour and abortion.
In concluding remarks, Aseil Al-Shehail, Country Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, remarked that they had taken significant steps for children’s rights. Yet the level was not up to the expectations of the Committee. There seemed to be too little attention to implementation concerning areas such as freedom of choice, association, thought and consideration. Also, adequate judicial oversight was necessary for adoption.
The delegation of the Republic of Korea included representatives of the Population and Child Policy Bureau, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the programme for Child and Youth Protection from Sexual Crimes from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the Ministry of National Defence, the Human Rights Division of the Ministry of Justice, the Child Welfare Policy Division from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Human Rights and Social Affairs Division from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Employment and Labour, the Republic of Korea Monitoring Centre for Children’s Rights from the Republic of Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs and from the permanent mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations in Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place on Thursday, 22 September 2011 at 10 a.m., when the Committee will examine the combined third and fourth periodic reports of the Syrian Arab Republic (CRC/C/SYR/3-4).
Report of the Republic of the Republic of Korea
The combined third and fourth periodic reports of the Republic of Korea (CRC/C/KOR/3-4) noted that the Republic of Korea had pursued various efforts with the aim of strengthening the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which included legislative amendments and institutional reform. The submission of the second periodic report in 2000 and the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2003 led to wide-ranging endeavours to promote children’s rights in the Republic of Korea. They included the creation of a comprehensive set of policies on child-related issues, increased budget and streamlining of the administrative framework for implementing child-related policies.
In 2002, the Republic of Korea’s Government established “the Comprehensive Plan for Child Protection and Development” with the aim of ensuring social services and basic livelihood for children to live with dignity as human beings. The next set of measures, adopted by the Republic of Korean Government in 2003, was focused on the safety of the child. “The Comprehensive Measures for Child Safety” aimed to create a safe environment for children by preventing abuse, violence and accidents. In the following year, the Government announced “The Comprehensive Measures for Children in Poverty” with a view to breaking the cycle of inherited poverty and providing all children the opportunity to start on an equal footing.
In relation to youth, the Government introduced the “Third Basic Plan for Youth Development (2003 – 2007)” in an effort to promote their rights, expand the opportunity for participation in policymaking and strengthen social services by addressing their needs. It had been succeeded by “the Fourth Basic Plan for Youth Development”, which was launched this year with a timeline extending to 2012.
The budget for these policies and plans had been raised over the years in order to make their implementation more effective. For example, the budget dedicated to fostering the welfare of children and youth, promoting their activities and preventing sexual violence against them, grew from the estimated 1.8 trillion Korean Won in 2003 to 2.8 Korean Won in 2007. In 2008 there were major shifts in the administration of policies on children and youth. Previously, there had been several Government bodies, each mandated with overseeing a subset of those policies: the Ministry of Health and Welfare had policies focused on children, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family on childcare policies and the Government Youth Commission dealing with youth policies. Those policies had now been integrated and put under the control of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs.
Presentation of the report of the Republic of The Republic of Korea
PARK SANG-KI, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea in Geneva, expressed his gratitude to the Committee for their work. He said that until the 1950s, the Republic of Korea pursued child policies that focused only on helping children in desperate need, such as those impoverished and orphaned. However, since the ratification of the Convention in 1991 the Republic of Korea had focused on policies that considered the rights of the child from a universal human rights perspective.
Yet the Republic of Korea was still witnessing cases of prejudice against children and violations of the rights of the children. There was still progress to be made in order to assure that all children were able to grow up with full enjoyment of their due rights. Since they submitted the third and fourth Periodic reports in 2008, the Government had engaged in several major initiatives including the amendment of laws and introduction of new systems, in order to further improve the rights of the child.
The Republic of Korea had put forth considerable efforts to withdraw the reservations made to the Convention. The government had already withdrawn its reservation to the child’s right to maintain contact with parents in October 2008 and, as a result, they had only two remaining reservations to the Convention. One of the most significant and recent improvements in this regard were the revisions of “the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption” and “the Civil Code” in August 2011. An approval by the Family Court was required before an adoption became valid. When the revision took effect, it would enable the withdrawal of the reservation to article 21(a) of the Convention.
The “Enforcement Decree of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act” was amended in March 2011. This made it mandatory for schools to listen to students’ views when enacting or amending school regulations on student life. Meanwhile, as part of the efforts to prevent school violence, in 2010 eight Government bodies joined in establishing “the Second Five-Year Plan on the Prevention of and Countermeasures against Violence in Schools”.
Measures to specify parents’ child-related responsibilities had been implemented. Divorce by agreement was only possible when consent had been reached on the terms regarding child-raising, such as the share of cost burdens.
An alternative care system for “children in need” who did not have the benefit of parental care for various reasons was being improved. Group homes and foster care protection had been introduced. Also an act stipulating the establishment of comprehensive support measures for disabled children and their families had been enacted.
In order to better prevent child abuse and protect the victims, a larger range of people were now responsible for reporting child abuse cases and the Child Welfare Act had been reviewed.
With regard to free compulsory education for children, a “common curriculum for five-year old children” would be introduced and implemented in 2012.
“The Support for Multicultural Families Act” had been amended to ensure a stable life without discrimination for migrant children and their families. The scope of multicultural families had been expanded.
In an effort to protect children from sexual violence the government had implemented a system that provided information about persons found guilty of committing sex crimes against children. The system distributed the information to local residents and educational facilities in the neighbourhoods where the sex offenders lived.
The system regarding the “Juvenile Justice Act” and the “Act on the Treatment of Protected Juveniles” had been improved.
Questions by the Experts
JEAN ZERMATTEN, the Committee Chairperson, said that children were still very controlled and observed, and laws still had a paternalistic approach, the laws had not taken on board the promotion of rights. Moreover, knowing the financial means of the Republic of Korea, the Committee expected more efforts to implement children’s rights. The Republic of Korea was among the eight most important economies in the world, yet the budget allocated to children was among the lowest in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The different budget lines for children should be identified so that the investment could better be estimated. Concerning the budget for the body that does the independent follow-up, was their budget independent?
Yet there were some positive points, such as the lifting of one of the three reservations. The Chairperson expressed the wish to see the Republic of Korea ratify the Convention on Migrant Workers.
Concerning the reservations, one was on article 40 (b) (5) about the appeal measures from a competent judge, and one was on international adoptions. Moreover, with regard to adoptions, why was there not more support for single mothers instead of letting them give up their child for adoption?
Was the Convention well known? It seemed that it was not invoked in the Courts. On the question of abortion, Mr. Zermatten wanted to know what the status of abortion for female children was. The law on the protection of children was underway, but the draft law on non-discrimination was suspended in May 2008. Why was it so and what had happened since? With regard to prohibition of corporal punishment, there was no national initiative. Did the Government plan to change that? Was it possible to change the legislation in order to facilitate the ratification of the Convention on Migrant Workers?
The Committee had issues understanding the coordination between regions in the Republic of Korea. Who coordinated the policies on children in the Republic of Korea? How was coordination organized between municipalities, regions and the Government? What was the coordination between the Government and civil society?
With regard to the national action plan, many actions were undertaken for the rights of the child, but the plan was soon coming to an end. Who was managing this plan of action, and what had been set up for the end of this plan in a few months?
Concerning independent monitoring and the national human rights institute, was this institute directly linked to the children’s rights ombudsperson? What was Republic of Korea doing to decentralize monitoring bodies for human rights?
ASEIL AL-SHEHAIL, Committee member acting as the Country Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, also asked about the allocation of resources. The Republic of Korea was considered one of the largest economies in the world. However in the world family database, they ranked very low in the budget allocated for children. The Republic of Korea had an operating children’s rights ombudsman, yet the mandate was renewed every three years. What was done to change this short-term system? There was no organization responsible for data collection on the implementation of the Convention. Institutions had limitations to lead research on children, what was done to change this? The report indicated that when it came to parental authority, Courts listened to children above 15 years of age. That age limit was very high and was not in the best interest of the child. Also, the law prohibited discrimination, yet it was not possible for pregnant girls to continue their education. What was being done for single mothers, and was this help available to them?
Another Expert asked whether the Republic of Korea envisaged ratifying the Convention on the Right not to be a victim of Enforced Disappearance. He also hoped that the Republic of Korea would soon ratify the Hague Conventions on Adoption. The Hague Conventions were essential because adopted children had the right to know who their biological parents were.
Why had the Republic of Korea not ratified yet Convention 105 on the abolition of forced labour? Also, there were still restrictions for children on expressing themselves and creating associations.
One Expert asked about civil liberties and the right of children to be heard. Certain children were forced to go to religious activities in schools even if they were not part of that religion. With regard to discrimination, one Expert highlighted that this issue seemed to be a deep-rooted phenomenon and needed much more effort. It needed the extensive efforts of the entire society.
What new measures were there to strengthen article 15, about freedom of association and assembly, not only in schools but also in the community and rural areas? The problem was acknowledged in the state party report. School authorities restricted this right of assembly. The school regulations should be based on the best interest of the child, not on political or administrative considerations. Children should have access to appropriate information as well. How was the Government working with the children themselves to protect them from harmful information through the internet, for example?
On the issue of firms and the rights of the child, the Expert asked about corporate social responsibility. Concerning imports, the Committee wanted to know whether The Republic of Korea bought cotton produced in Uzbekistan, because this cotton was gathered by child labour. Also, many The Republic of Korean firms were beginning to request the signing of long-term concessions of land. Were these firms taking the rights of the child into account? Had the Republic of Korea carried out a human rights impact of their Free Trade Agreements?
What was the system of birth registration? Hospitals issued birth certificates, but if birth took place at home, how did this work? Were there alternative places to register?
What was the coordination system between the children’s rights monitoring centre, the recent human rights commission and the ombudsman?
How did the Government guarantee leisure time? On the basis of discussion with children in the Republic of Korea, it seemed that it was not always respected in schools. What was done to encourage positive discipline and try to stop corporal punishment, including in schools? Also, bullying in schools was still present. What was done to stop this?
On the subject of protection of privacy, was it allowed for parents to disrupt the privacy of the child?
Response by the Delegation
A national policy group existed that had held nine meetings on children’s rights in the past few years. The Committee on Asian Society and Policy moved to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The Prime Minister was in charge of the Child Policy coordination Committee. The debates were now led in the National Policy Coordination Meetings, because the other Committee specifically on children’s rights was not functional anymore. Also, there were special annual youth conferences where youth specialists discussed various issues related to children and would then report to the Government.
The ombudspersons were ten adults and ten children. Parental understanding of the whole system was not yet very developed. The Monitoring Centre provided support to the group for ombudspersons. The ombudspersons were doctors and educators. Every three months, the ombudspersons had to report to the Republic of Korea Monitoring Centre. Among the children who worked with the ombudspersons, there were children from poor backgrounds as well as children with disabilities.
There were various means for children to file complaints, including on a specific website monitored by the ombudspersons. Moreover, almost every Korean family had an internet connection. Facebook and Twitter were used by children in a useful and vibrant way. Children sometimes even posted videos of what happened in their classroom.
With regard to the ratification of the Hague Convention on adoption, the Government was making efforts by forming a task force to consider changing various domestic laws to ratify the Hague Convention.
Foster care and group homes were encouraged. Yet the increase of adoptions was not as high as expected.
As for birth registration, parents were also allowed to register births as well as doctors. Less than 0.3 per cent of births took place at home, and there was national health coverage for everyone. It was true that in the process of adoption, some people did not want others to know that their child was adopted so some registrations were not done officially. There were around 1,400 domestic adoptions last year, and around 1,000 inter-country adoptions. The economic crises were thought to have been obstacles to inter-country adoption.
Regarding abortion, it had been difficult to launch a fact-finding survey on this issue but it was still being conducted. Last year there were over 14,000 abortions throughout the country.
Questions by the Experts
One Expert asked whether there was birth registration for children of refugees or asylum-seekers. Migrant children were not detained in welcome centres because the Republic of Korea did not have such centres. There was no timeline on the detention on those children, which could be criticized. Some children in detention were even under 10 years old.
Migrant children, even irregular migrant children, had to provide identity papers when they went to school, which was a problem.
The age for criminal responsibility had been lowered from 12 to 10 years, which ran counter to the Convention. Had it lowered the curb of young offenders?
With regard to child abuse, the number of reported cases continued to grow and caused concern to the Committee. What were the efforts to prosecute sexual abuse of children, including trafficking?
Reports had indicated concern about child labour. Did the Government have a plan to remove such practice? Child labour was on the increase: 6.5 per cent of children aged between 15 and 19 went to work, 44 per cent worked more than six hours a day and 62 per cent worked without a break, which ran against the Convention. Physical, verbal and sexual abuse took place. When there were so many violations, it became forced labour. Most enterprises did not respect labour laws but there had been no prosecutions. The Expert pointed out that the Optional Protocol was not entirely respected in the Republic of Korea. There was a prohibition for children under 15 to work, yet the Ministry of Labour could allow the work of children between 13 and 15. Why would the Ministry allow that?
Concerning migrant workers, if a parent was taken to a shelter because they were irregular, what happened to the children?
There was a specific prohibition of enrolling children in armed conflict and the Committee hoped that the sanctions for violating this prohibition would be reinforced.
With regard to mental health, child suicides had almost doubled between 2005 and 2008 – what was the government doing about it?
Concerning education for children with disabilities, many went to mainstream schools, but were in special classes. Thus they were not well integrated. The state should make better efforts for inclusive education.
What had been done to better integrate Muslim children in the Republic of Korea? For example they could not eat the food in the canteens.
Young offenders were separated from other offenders if there were special circumstances: what did that mean and did that happen often?
On article 11, the Hague Convention on the civil aspects had not been ratified.
There were specific courts for juvenile justice. Were judges there in charge of young offenders and did they receive special training?
It was a concern that very few migrant children were enrolled in school. What was being done to change that? There seemed to be a gender disparity in secondary schools. What was being done about that?
There was no available data on the number of children in poverty. Would the state party lead a multidisciplinary, in-depth study on the subject? This would help the implementation of the new act on children in poverty that was adopted in July 2011. With regard to school meals for children in need due to poverty, what were the exact numbers?
Adolescents were facing a very disturbing situation including problems with violence in schools, suicides, pregnancies and other issues. The Committee would like to know why those issues were happening: had the government identified specific reasons? Were there cultural, historical, sociological reasons? One Expert expressed his doubts about the efficiency of the systematic use of a diagnostic tool that would identify potential suicide risks.
Why had the bill against discrimination been pending since 2008? Did the Republic of Korean society have an issue with it?
With regard to registration of births, the Committee insisted that registration of births had to be compulsory, not just a possibility.
It was crucial for the Committee to see the Optional Protocol respected, including the laws on the sale of persons. Was that respected in the Republic of Korean law? In addition, there had to be an expressed prohibition and criminalization of the owning of pornographic material, including children. In addition all forms of child prostitution had to be criminalized.
Had the Republic of Korea thought about all of those proposed amendments?
Response by the Delegation
The Adoption Act was amended in August 2011. The adoptees now could access information on biological parents. The right to request information would be smoothly implemented. But if adoption took place a long time ago, information could not always be available.
There was a new act that prevented discrimination against the disabled, and one act that supported the rights of disabled children. There had been several plans and the Republic of Korea encouraged mainstreaming disabled children. The Republic of Korea really wanted to provide an optimal education for disabled children. Currently, integrated education was on the rise. There were also specialized examinations in schools for disabled children. As for the right to education, there was a special act for disabled children. Education was even mandatory until 17 years of age, and disabled children under the age of 12 received free education. On health care for the disabled, The Republic of Korea had universal health care.
With regard to the suicide rate, it was indeed increasing and Ministries were cooperating to try to counter this. There were studies about depression and a tool was created to launch a survey on adolescents and to diagnose depression. Medical treatment would then be made available in schools. Teachers and friends in school could warn the medical staff if they identified a possible case of depression. Psychological teams had been dispatched to schools. The use of a diagnosing tool could indeed cause problems for privacy, but the results of the diagnosis were not sent to teachers. They were sent to experts who could intervene. Extra-curricular activities were now expanded. There were, for example, programs to take children out on visits to the countryside.
Young unwed mothers and adult unwed mothers did not benefit from the same allowance. For single mothers under 25, there was more financial help because they faced more issues. The Government was trying to counter the negative image that society had of young unwed mothers. When pregnant girls wanted to keep studying, they had access to special schools. Now the trend was to recommend group homes so they had independent space. Unwed mothers even participated in Government task forces to help the Government be more aware about their needs.
The maternal Health Act included guidelines on abortion. Abortion was allowed when there was a risk to health. Abortion was decreasing in the Republic of Korea. Young The Republic of Koreans used applications on their smartphone to know when girls had their period. This example showed that young Koreans were quite well informed about contraception.
Concerning juvenile justice, the national action plan involved a comprehensive plan that included children’s rights. The Korean Government had already implemented the first drafted plan. There was a special Juvenile Justice Act with specially trained judges working on cases involving minors. The youngest age for juvenile delinquency was 12. The Government had needed to take special measures, because there were more and more young delinquents, so the age of delinquency had been reduced to 10. But there had been very few cases this year.
As to social discrimination, one act was currently pending since 2008. This was due to the need to reviewing the existing act, and some organizations were opposing it.
As long as children resided in the Republic of Korea, they were all allowed to go to school, whether foreign or not. Education programmes were also available for the parents. Parents of school age foreigners who did not go to school were not punished. The Republic of Korea was in the process of changing canteen food so that Muslim children would have access to food that they could eat.
A person who had been recognized as a refugee could work in the Republic of Korea. Foreign children under the age of 14 and whose parents were in migrant shelters were allowed to stay with their parents.
The amendment of the child pornography law had expanded the definition in order to make the law stricter. It was crucial to eliminate child pornography online; perpetrators were punished when the government found their websites. Virtual material including children was prohibited and the owning of it was criminalized. Sex trade overseas was prohibited.
Children were not allowed to participate in armed conflict in the Republic of Korea. The relevant articles stipulated that those under 15 years of age could not be conscripted for armed conflict or hostilities, and violators were punished.
For impoverished children who needed lunch during the holidays, local child centres ran by the Ministry of Welfare existed in communities, and would provide for the children.
The minimum age of employment for children was 15. The Ministry of Labour could allow children between 13 and 15 to work if the children consented but those were exceptional circumstances. From 13 to 15 years of age those children were the recipients of mandatory education, even if they worked. There was not yet enough data available to give more details. There were children who worked at night (seven hour shifts) but they received one and a half times the regular wage.
In the case of divorce, a child could determine which parent would have parental right. In order to respect children’s right to expression the Government was taking measures.
The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of the Child had equal effectiveness in tribunals as national legislation. In cases of conflict between the two, national legislation would have priority if it was more precise on specific situations.
ASEIL AL-SHEHAIL, Country Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, remarked that the Republic of Korea had taken significant steps for children’s rights. However the level was not up to the expectations of the Committee. There seemed to be too little attention to implementation concerning areas such as freedom of choice, association, thought and consideration. Also, adequate judicial oversight was necessary for adoption. Education and special educational needs required a better focus. Finally Ms. Al-Shehail thanked the delegation for a very constructive dialogue with the Committee Experts.
PARK SANG-KI, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea in Geneva, said that the Republic of Korea had made notable achievements in the implementation of children’s rights, but it needed the recommendations of the Committee in order to identify the challenges that were still present. Mr. Park hoped to have a continuous dialogue between the Mission in Geneva and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
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