Death of 16-month-old, abused by adoptive parents, angers South Korea
Last week, a South Korean woman went on trial on the charges of murder and child abuse in Seoul following the death of her 16-month-old adopted daughter. The child, Jeong-in, had died in October last year, after reportedly sustaining months of abuse at the hands of her adoptive parents, surnamed Ahn and Jang. The case has triggered public outrage and calls for stricter laws.
Jeong-in was pronounced dead at a Seoul hospital last October after suffering severe abdominal injuries and internal bleeding. The police suspect the injuries had been caused by repeated beatings by her parents, who had adopted her in February that year. The national forensic service said the injuries resulted from "strong external force applied on her back," and that the broken bones indicated "prolonged abuse."
Reportedly, before the child's death, the adoptive parents had appeared on a television show called 'One Average Family' posing as a normal family and boasting about their decision to adopt. The police have discovered over 800 videos of Jang "physically and mentally abusing" Jeong-in.
Her adoptive mother, Jang, went to trial last week on murder and child abuse charges in Seoul southern district court, while the father Ahn faces negligence charges. Jang has admitted to some instances of abuse but denied wanting to cause the victim to die. As she went on trial, protesters gathered outside the court. One held a banner saying, "Sorry to notice too late."
In January this year, the South Korean national assembly cleared several child protection laws including a ban on corporal punishment in the home. Further, the police is now required to launch an investigation immediately after being alerted by medical professionals or child welfare agencies. Calls for longer prison sentences, however, drew criticism from lawyers who said the move would make securing convictions harder.
Social media has been flooded with messages of anger and anguish. Many focused on the police, which faces allegations of inaction after receiving three reports concerning Jeong-in's well-being over five months. K-pop group BTS member Jimin called for justice with the hashtag #SorryJeongin. People demanded greater investigative powers to officials to allow children to be forcibly and immediately separated from parents suspected of abuse.
South Korea's President, Moon Jae-in, also said that the country had failed children like Jeong-in. However, Moon drew criticism for suggesting that adopted children struggling to settle into their new homes could be "sent back" by their adoptive parents.
Jieun Lee—a lawyer and director of the Korea Childcare Promotion Institute—told The Guardian that the involvement of multiple agencies, that keep shifting the blame, keeps authorities from efficiently handling such cases. "There are only 240 child abuse officials and over 30,000 reported cases," she added, "They're terribly understaffed." Other experts say child protection officers and police are inadequately trained to spot signs of abuse.