The VICE Guide to Right Now

Parents in South Korea Are Upset They Can’t Beat Their Kids Anymore

The country’s plan to scrap the law allowing parents to physically discipline their children is causing quite the controversy among adults.

by Shamani Joshi
28 May 2019, 5:33am

Photo: Hung Chung Chih/Shutterstock

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

As a kid, every time I did or said something that my parents believed was unacceptable behaviour, I was given the silent treatment and shunned to a corner, forced to stare at a wall and introspect what I had done wrong. It’s only after growing up though that I've come to realise that I am among the lucky ones. So many of my Asian friends have been smacked, slapped, pinched and in some cases, hit with a belt or a wooden ruler, that ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ is often an unspoken norm.

But studies talk about how using physical force can mentally traumatise a child and cause depression or intellectual disabilities. And while this form of punishment was considered fair game for parents in South Korea, that’s all about to change. Except parents are kinda upset about this.

As South Korea moves towards scrapping the law that allows parents to physically discipline their kids, many parents in the country are trying to oppose it, and it’s causing quite the controversy. According to estimates put forth by AFP, reports of child abuse in the country—including neglect and emotional abuse along with physical or sexual assaults—have risen more than tenfold between 2001 and 2017 to 22,386 cases. In 77 per cent of cases, the abuse is inflicted by the victims' parents.

So it only makes sense that the right allowing parents to physically discipline their children, which has been a part of the country's civil code since 1960, be removed.

"More in our society agree that child abuse is a serious social problem," Seoul's Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo told reporters.

While physical punishment in schools has been outlawed since 2010, a recent government survey showed that at least 76.8 per cent of adult South Koreans felt corporal punishment was a necessity to discipline their kids.

"I'm going to continue beating my kids even if it requires writing a contract with them," Lee Kyung-ja, head of a conservative group of parents, told AFP. "I'll refuse to give them food and pay for their tuition if they don't listen to their parents,” she continued, exemplifying sentiments across South Korea.

Living in South Korea as a kid means you exist in a pressure-driven education system and a hierarchical social structure that favours traditional values of obedience and respect towards all kinds of authority figures. It’s no wonder then that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development group of developed countries has repeatedly cited South Korean children as the least happy.

While on one end you have parents hiring thugs to prevent bullying in schools, the society is such that filing a complaint or criticising a parent may be viewed as a disgrace—or even a "sin against heaven," making young victims of abuse all the more vulnerable. And according to youth rights activist Kang Min-jin, many parents facing prosecution for abuse have their charges dropped as there is noone else to care for their children.

This rewriting of the rule comes after reports from earlier this year of a 12-year-old girl—who was being abused by both, her biological father and stepfather—being killed by the stepparent after she reported it to the police.

This corporal punishment crisis is a cultural issue in Asia, where several parents assume it’s totally okay to hit their kids to condition them into realising that they’ve done something wrong. Especially in countries like China, harsh disciplinary action is seen as just a way to make the child dutiful. On the other end, Nepal and Mongolia are the only Asian countries that have completely outlawed corporal punishment in all its forms, with the Philippines moving towards making corporal punishment a thing of the past too. You also have new studies popping up to prove that the pain lingers long after it’s inflicted. Even though it’s going to take more time and effort to get there, at least we’re slowly realising that physical punishment can’t be the cure for bad behaviour.

Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.