May 01, 2015

Child Representation 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.

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’s she’s learning with a focus on aspects of interest to practitioners. See last month’s column, “The Role of the Family Court Increases in Child Protection Cases in South Korea.” 

Legal Representation in Child Protection Cases

Until recently, a guardian ad litem or child representative was an unfamiliar concept in the South Korean child protection system. Although the government provided public defender services for child victims in severe child abuse cases, these services were not differentiated from services for adults. 

A new law, the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, etc., of Crimes of Child Abuse, now permits the prosecution to appoint a public defender to represent a child abuse victim throughout the child protection proceeding.  The new law does not mandate legal representation for every child in child protection proceedings, however.

Special Public Defender Services for Child Victims   

Under the new law, the Ministry of Justice established the special public defender services for child abuse victims in January 2015. The program launched after the special public defender services for victims of sexual violence was established in July 2013 proved successful.  Fifteen attorneys were appointed to represent victims of child abuse and sexual violence.  

Agency Attorney Appointed 

Korea’s child protection agencies have long lacked legal representation in child protection cases. However, the National Child Protection Agency (NCPA) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Korean Women Lawyers Association (KWLA) to receive legal services in child abuse cases. KWLA, partnering with the Korean Bar Association, then appointed a special child protection attorney for the NCPA.  In charge of child protection proceedings for the agency, the attorney usually petitions the court for a protection order when the agency seeks to protect a child’s safety.  The attorney also reviews temporary measure requests to the court and convinces the judges of the proposed measures. 

With the first attorney now working in the child protection agency, the hope is that attorneys will be placed in all regional child protection agencies throughout South Korea to participate in legal proceedings on behalf of children.  

Need for Public Interest Attorneys 

The expanded role of attorneys in child protection is also connected to a new law school system. Until recently, it was rare for Korean attorneys to work in nonprofit legal sectors because only 1,000 new attorneys were selected in the nation every year. In 2009, Korea began to operate a law school system like the system in the U.S. This increased the number of admitted attorneys. As a result, more attorneys now work in diverse sectors such as child protection. To further expand and improve legal representation of children, the government and private organizations must support efforts to train attorneys in child protection.  


Stay tuned: Next month’s column will conclude the Cultural Exchange series highlighting foster care and permanency for children in South Korea.