March 01, 2015

New Law Protects Child Victims in South Korea

Ann Park

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Cultural Exchange #2

Former Center public interest fellow and consultant, Ann Park, received a Fulbright Scholarship to study child welfare law in South Korea. In this column, she shares highlights of what she’s learning with a focus on aspects of interest to practitioners. See last month’s column for an overview of child maltreatment trends in South Korea.

The Child Welfare Act and Need for New Law 

Korea’s Child Welfare Act, implemented in 1961, covers many child welfare issues, including child maltreatment. However, it is not comprehensive enough to overcome underlying obstacles to intervening effectively when child maltreatment is suspected.1

Obstacles include: insufficient authority of child protection employees to challenge parental rights of perpetrators, inefficient mandated reporting system, vague procedure to separate the child from the parent in emergencies, and unsuccessful collaboration between child protection employees and police officers at an abuse scene.2 

South Korea’s New Law for Protection and Punishment 

A recognition of the Child Welfare Act’s weaknesses, led to efforts to improve child protection for child victims, resulting in the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, etc., of Crimes of Child Abuse. The new law, enacted on January 28th, 2014, became effective September 29th, 2014.  The law heightens punishments for child abusers and limits their access to the child. It also improves protections for child victims.3  The new law reflects the idea that child maltreatment is a cycle that tends to continue and repeat. It outlines how to properly handle abusers to reduce threats to children’s welfare.4  

In addition to the heightened punishment for perpetrators,5 the law’s main elements are: 

  • Measures for Child Abuse Perpetrators6  

In emergencies, the law allows the police to separate the perpetrator from the child or the family member either voluntarily or upon request by the child, child’s representative, child’s lawyer, or the head of the child protection agency. . The prosecutor can request temporary measures, including limiting or suspending parental rights, to the family court judge.

  • Expanded Duties of Mandated Reporters7 

Before the new law, mandated reporters—including teachers, counselors, and professionals who work with children in welfare facilities, nurseries, public schools and private schools—had a duty to report a child abuse case when they “found child abuse while on duty.”8  Now, mandated reporters who are certain of child abuse and those who suspect abuse also have a duty to report. Mandated reporters who fail to report face a financial penalty (a maximum of 5,000,000 won, or approximately $5,000).9  

  • Protection Order for an Abused Child10 

Before the law, the child protection agency did not have the authority to directly ask the court to limit parental rights of the perpetrator.  Such request was made first through the head of the local government or the prosecutor.11   Now the child, child’s representative, child’s attorney, and the head of the child protection agency can directly request protection order to the family court to limit perpetrators’ access to the child, protect the child, and limit the parental rights of the parent or guardian. Further, the law allows the family court to issue the protection order without a request when it suspects child abuse during divorce or juvenile proceedings.12 

Although still young, the new law clearly expands the roles of the family court and the child protection agency in child protection cases.  

Stay tuned: Next month’s column will highlight the role of the family court in child welfare cases. 

1 Jeong, Oung-Seok. “A Meaning and Subject of Special Act on Punishment of the Child Abuse.” Victimology Studies 22:1, April 2014, 191-92.   

2  Kim, Sang-yong. “Study on Developing a New Legal System for Prevention of Child Abuse and Protection of Child Abuse Victims.” Chung-Ang University Legal Studies Journal 36:3, December 2012,  20-25. 

3 The Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, etc., of Crimes of Child Abuse of 2014 (Child Abuse Punishment Act). 

4 See Lee, Ho-joong. “Searching for Legal Reforms against Child Abuse,” Justice Tong-Gwon 134, February 2013, 10; Jeong, 2014, 192.  

5 Child Abuse Punishment Act, Ch. 2.  This chapter lays out punishment measures for different kinds of perpetrators.   

6  Ibid. Ch. 3, Art. 13 & 14, Ch. 4, Art. 19.

7 Child Abuse Punishment Act, Ch. 3, Art. 10.

8 Child Welfare Act, Ch. 3(2), Art. 25.

9  Child Abuse Punishment Act, Ch. 6, Art. 62 (2).    

10  Ibid., Ch. 5, Art. 47.

11  Child Welfare Act, Ch. 3, Art. 18; The Child Protection Agency is a civil organization to which the government delegated the child protection operation.  

12  Child Abuse Punishment Act, Ch. 5, Art. 47.