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Experts of the Committee on the rights of the child discuss the protection of rights in schools with the republic of Korea

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of the Republic of Korea on how it implements the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Several issues related to education were flagged, with Committee Experts expressing concerns about excessive academic stress, the use of corporal punishment, migrant children’s access to schools, sexual harassment of girls in schools, and the use of closed-circuit cameras.

Committee Experts asked if corporal punishment was explicitly prohibited in all settings and all provinces. They raised concerns about migrant children’s access to education and the use of closed-circuit cameras in schools. They said they had met with Korean children who were worried about academic stress and doing nothing but study. Did Korean authorities acknowledge this was a problem?

The delegation explained that in schools, disciplinary action could only be taken for the welfare of the child and this criterium was not considered to provide grounds for corporal punishment. The right to “take disciplinary action” may be re-defined and qualified in the future. The Government would hold consultations on this matter to potentially amend regulations. Turning to migrant children, the delegation said that principals could not refuse them admission without justification; admission was based on school rules. Closed-circuit cameras could only be used for purposes that advanced the public interest and the guidelines sought to prevent the misuse of information.

Renate Winter, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation. The State party was spending a lot of money on education. But this should aim to foster children’s ability to make decisions for themselves by themselves.

Ganlip Kim, Vice-Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea, in his concluding remarks, thanked non-governmental organizations and Committee Experts. He expressed appreciation for the opportunity to engage in this dialogue. The Republic of Korea had made continuous progress on children’s rights by aligning its laws with the Convention. It had to build on these achievements to move further ahead. The Government would give due consideration to the Committee’s recommendations.

Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its openness to engage in a dialogue. The Committee sought to assist the Republic of Korea in implementing the Convention. It would be important to address the situation of the children who were stranded in the airport, he stressed.

The delegation of the Republic of Korea consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Jeju District Court, the Daejeon District Court, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of National Defence, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the National Youth Policy Institute, the Constitutional Court, the National Institute of Environmental Research, and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public this afternoon at 3 p.m., to consider the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Portugal (CRC/PRT/5-6).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of the Republic of Korea (CRC/C/KOR/5-6).

Presentation of the Report

GANGLIP KIM, Vice-Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea, recognized the significant contribution of non-governmental organizations working on children’s rights. They had supported and encouraged the Government’s efforts to comply with the Convention, by both advising and criticizing it.

Since the submission of the latest report in 2017, the Korean Government had made meaningful achievements in promoting the rights of the child. The Government had introduced child benefits in 2017 and established the National Centre for the Rights of the Child in 2019. In May 2019, it had launched the Policies for Children towards Building an Inclusive Society, aimed at strengthening public accountability for children requiring the nation’s protection; adopting a birth notification and an anonymous birth system; and promoting a “country where children are happy” and where lower levels of happiness amongst children were recognized as a problem.

On the child benefits scheme, he explained that, initially, about $ 85 were provided on a monthly basis to recipients. At that time, all children under six years of age from households in the lower 90 per cent income tier were eligible for child benefits. Such criteria were eliminated in 2019; all children under six were now entitled to child benefits. As of September, the age criteria had been revised to allow all children under seven to receive child benefits.

The Government had also developed the e-children happiness support programme in 2018. It pooled big data on social security, including information on absence from schools or childcare institutions. It was now used for the early detection and protection of children at risk of child abuse. In 2018, about 55,000 children at risk had been detected and monitored. About 2,000 of them were provided with welfare services and detailed investigations on child abuse were conducted for about 44 of them.

The Policies for Children towards Building an Inclusive Society were centred on four key themes of protection, human rights and participation, health and play. They had been designed to expand the scope of the nation’s responsibility for children requiring its protection and raise awareness to perceive children as independent rights holders rather than subjects of discipline and rearing. In this regard, the Government would gradually reinforce the workforce in charge of child protection in local governments from the second half of 2020. This would allow local governments to take the lead in decision-making processes regarding children that required protection due to abuse, poverty or abandonment.

The Government of Korea was fully aware that there was room for improvement despite all the achievements outlined earlier. To ensure the happiness and rights of the child, the Government would exert the utmost efforts.

Questions by the Committee Experts

AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, noted that the State party was considering withdrawing its reservation on article 40, paragraph 2(b)(v). Had a time frame been set for the withdrawal?

The Committee had previously recommended that the Republic of Korea establish an appropriate coordinating body with the necessary authority. Had there been a practical response to this recommendation? Which of the policies mentioned by the State party constituted the comprehensive policy on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

Concerning the Policies for Children towards Building an Inclusive Society, how could these policies aim for an inclusive society when they excluded migrant children without Korean nationality from their scope? There were 20,000 undocumented migrants in the State party, the Co-Rapporteur recalled.

The Government had created the Child Rights Committee and the Division for Child and Youth Rights within the National Human Rights Commission as the two competent authorities for the monitoring of children’s rights. How was the independence of the Division guaranteed when its existence was dependent on the assessment of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security?

What plans had the Government put in place to adopt a proper risk management system for examining the effects of chemical substances on children, she asked, recalling the 2016 toxic humidifier disinfectant incident, which had resulted in the death of many persons, including children. She requested information on the sanctions imposed on the companies responsible?

What platforms were available for children to express their views? The State party had stated in paragraph 63 of its report that schools could collect opinions from students. How did these opinions contribute to decision-making related to children’s life in schools? Did students participate in making policies for their schools?

Was corporal punishment explicitly prohibited in all settings and all provinces? It seemed to be still lawful or partially lawful in different parts of the country.

CEPHAS LUMINA, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, requested information on the specific measures taken to increase the child-related budgetary allocation.

What were the Government’s plans to integrate a child-rights perspective into its Third Basic Plan for International Development Cooperation (2021-2025)?

Mr. Lumina asked if the Government intended to cease financial support for the construction of coal-fired power plants in other countries (such as Viet Nam and Indonesia) which not only contributed to pollution but had significant health implications for the populations, including children.
On birth registration, he asked if the birth registration and notification system was operational. Did it provide universal coverage? Was it available to all children regardless of their parents’ legal status and national origin? He asked the delegation to comment on the Ministry of Justice’s opposition to an amendment of a bill on birth registration for fear that allowing the registration of the births of children without Korean nationality would destabilize the system.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, noting that the Korean legislature was very active, requested information on the status of the non-discrimination act.
Children who found themselves in a migration situation seem to face a form of discrimination. How was the State party fulfilling its obligations under the Convention in that regard?

Suicide was a very serious issue. The Committee had received conflicting figures on this matter. Could the delegation provide it with updated data? What had been the impact of the action plan rolled out by the Government to tackle this issue?

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, asked how the Government intended to upgrade the system to tackle child abuse and ensure it also protected children who were not yet in school as well as those that were in school.

She said 76 per cent of all reported cases of abuse had been perpetrated by family members. Could the delegation comment on this matter and explain how it was tackling this issue?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions and comments, the delegation said that at the moment, there were no plans or discussions to create a ministry dedicated to children in the Republic of Korea.
Regarding the withdrawal of the reservation on article 21 (a), the Government had conducted a full revision of the Act on Special Cases concerning Adoption in August 2011. A provision on permission from the family court had been adopted.

The Government through various sources of law ensured every individual’s right to appeal, including children. Military trials could not be appealed, however, when an extraordinary martial law had been proclaimed. This was in partial conflict with the Convention. In order to withdraw the reservation on article 40, paragraph 2(b)(v), the Military Court Act would have to be revised. The Ministry of Defence was
considering the suggestion of the Committee positively. It was considering aligning military courts with civilian courts. The Government would work toward forming a public consensus on this issue.

Regarding the Child Policy Coordination Committee, the delegation explained that it reviewed policy and made suggestions. It was comprised of experts. For the Child Policy Coordination Committee to assume a greater role, a senior government official had been appointed as chair. The Centre for the Rights of the Child had been created recently and could support this body.

The Centre for the Rights of the Child performed data management related tasks. Data was analysed to avoid welfare benefits overlapping. Various ministries managing statistics on child would work together to improve data collection and management practices.

The Centre for the Rights of the Child had created a unit to independently monitor children’s rights. It had also established a committee on child rights.

In February 2019, the act on the Centre for the Rights of the Child had been amended so that its Commissioners would be exempt from criminal and civil liability. They could now carry out their work independently.

To strengthen human rights education in the school curriculum, the Government had made significant efforts. The curriculum included content on human rights. Learning materials had been developed and were distributed to all schools via an electronic platform. Also, teachers were trained in human rights and gender equality. The goal was to carry out education on human rights in schools in a systematic manner.

On chemical substances, the delegation said that “sensitive” groups, such as children and pregnant women, were cared for preferentially as per the law. This was reflected in the risk management system, and the Government established safety standards accordingly. For instance, for certain products, a specific kind of packaging was mandatory. Companies that had sold products with labels that did not meet the standards established by the Government had been sanctioned. <

Turning to the anti-discrimination act, the delegation explained that the proposed inclusion of certain prohibited grounds of discrimination, such as sexual orientation, had generated clashes of views and spirited debates. In that regard, delegates asked the Committee to be understanding.

Regarding freedom of expression and respect for privacy, there were laws establishing policies on these matters to safeguard these rights. Each school unit, using certain procedures and criteria, could restrict students’ participation in some activities, taking into consideration security and pedagogical needs. Schools developed regulations by notably collecting the opinions of the students.

In schools, disciplinary action could only be taken for the welfare of the child and this criterium was not considered to provide grounds for corporal punishment. The right to “take disciplinary action” might be re-defined and qualified in the future. The Government would hold consultations on this matter to potentially amend regulations. Corporal punishment was prohibited in correctional facilities.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts

AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, asked if corporal punishment was prohibited in all institutions and in all provinces?

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, asked how many children had complained about corporal punishment? What had been the outcome of these complaints?

Another Expert said the situation in the State party required a comprehensive response regarding the issue of corporal punishment. What strategies would the Government implement to prevent the use of corporal punishment? Would it amend the legislation that allowed for “educational chastisement”?

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, noted that the discussion on the withdrawal of reservations had been ongoing since 1996, that was for 23 years. Did the Government have a timeline for the withdrawal of the reservations?

An Expert asked if the Government had a roadmap for the banning of corporal punishment. He requested information on the awareness-raising campaigns conducted by the Government.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that action had been taken on adoption, notably through the introduction of the permission by family courts.

On the installation of closed-circuit televisions in schools, the delegation said the Government had put in place guidelines for the installation and operation of such devices. It provided guidance to schools every year. The guidelines provided that closed-circuit television televisions could only be used for purposes that advanced the public interest and sought to prevent the misuse of information. Persons who had been filmed could request a confirmation of the existence of footage that concerned him or her as well as their deletion.

For low-income families, child support had been continuously increased by the Government.

The Republic of Korea had the second highest suicide rate among countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Government had been making strenuous efforts to address this issue. In January 2018, a national action plan had been established to reduce the nation’s suicide rate. A project was in place to survey children who had attempted suicide. A pilot project would be launched this year. A Child Suicide Prevention Committee chaired by the Prime Minister had been created to support the Government. The whole of the Government was working on this issue.

As for the overall budgetary allocation to children-related issues in relation to the Republic of Korea’s gross domestic product, the delegation remarked that the Korean percentage was lower than the average of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. It was important to note, however, that the level of growth in the Republic of Korea was double the average in countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The population of the Republic of Korea was ageing and the Government’s resources were limited.

The speed at which these expenses were growing had not been satisfactory. There was also a low fertility problem in the Republic of Korea, and the Government had to create a positive environment for child birth and child rearing. Cash allowances and child benefits had been increasing. Childcare, compared to other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, was not low. The Korean cash benefits, however, were low when compared to that of other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

Second Round of Questions

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, asked what were the challenges faced by individuals who wished to go on paternity leave and how the Government was addressing them.

He requested information on children deprived of a family environment. There seemed to be not only a need to increase resources, but also a need to ensure access to them. To what extent were the Government’s efforts to address the root causes of this phenomenon successful?

What were the monitoring mechanisms in place to deal with disruptions during adoption procedures?

CEPHAS LUMINA, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, requested information on measures taken to combat stigmatization of children with disabilities.

What measures were being taken to ensure access to the national healthcare scheme, including for vulnerable children?

He requested information on efforts made by the Government to mitigate the effects of climate change, notably those that were linked to its reliance on fossil fuels, and to protect mothers and children from the pollution generated by the coal-fired plants, and toxic products?

AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, asked if the Government was ready to spur a paradigm shift to make education less competitive.

The free semester programme provided career opportunities for students. Were out of school children included in this programme? What say did children have in the design of the career choices it provided?

There seemed to be no inclusive education in the State party – children with disabilities still went to special schools in the Republic of Korea. Was this correct?

Turning to education for migrant children, the Co-Rapporteur noted that the Framework Act on Education provided that the right to compulsory education was only granted to Korean nationals. This act was in contradiction with the revised Enforcement Decree of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which stated that a non-national child could enrol in elementary and middle school with a certificate of residency, without having to prove his or her migratory status. Which act was being applied?

Ms. Aldoseri also requested information on the reproductive health curriculum, cyberbullying, and human rights education.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, raised concerns about discrimination against migrant children, who did not have guaranteed access to shelters for abused children and facility-based benefits. What was the Government doing to remedy this situation? What was the Government doing to address the xenophobic attitudes in the Republic of Korea?

The number of child victims of violence, including sexual violence, was very high.
What was the Government doing to ensure that police did not investigate children without a person of trust being involved?

Ms. Winter requested information about the de facto pre-trial detention of minors. She noted that deprivation of liberty was never in the best interest of the child.

AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, requested information about the sexual harassment of girls in school. It often went unreported, because girls feared reprisal. What reparations had been provided to the victims?

Could the delegation brief the Committee on the report on the “School Me Too” movement?

The Co-Rapporteur said the Committee had met with children from the Republic of Korea and they had expressed concerns about academic stress. They said the only thing they did was study. Did Korean authorities acknowledge this was a problem?

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, asked about violations of labour standards, which often involved children.
There was an asylum seeking family with four children that had been living in a transit zone in an airport for over 200 days. Why was their application for asylum not being processed? The children were under the age of 10. Why was this happening and why did it take so long to make a competent decision?

Most prisons held adults with children. As of June 2019, there was only one correctional institution for juveniles in the State party.

Another Expert requested information about children put in “baby boxes” managed by religious institutions. What was the Government doing about this issue? It was a child abandonment issue.

Replies by the Delegation

On the child policy impact assessments, the delegation explained that the Government carried them out for major policies, prior to their implementation. Specialized assessments were also conducted. In that regard, and to raise the degree of expertise, manuals were developed and pilot projects were put in place.

A new system had been put in place in May 2018 to allow for online birth registrations. Since then, 9,551 births had been registered online. The online birth registration system sought to make the registration process more convenient.

In 2018, the Government had conducted a fact-finding survey on migrant children staying in the Republic of Korea without documentation. It found that there were between 5,000 and 13,000 of them.

Since April, the birth registration system had been undergoing a review. The Government recognized the need to implement a universal birth registration system, including for non-Korean children. Moving forward, relevant governmental entities would be working to identify legislative changes required to that end, and would conduct activities to ensure that the public understood why such a system had to be implemented.

On children’s participation, the delegation assured that views of children continued to be solicited and reflected into policy. The Korean General Assembly of Children was held annually. The child policy impact assessments notably evaluated the impact of policies on child participation. A law had been presented to lower the voting age from 19 years to 18 years. It was now pending.

Since 2005, three programmes on school violence had been carried out, resulting in the reduction of instances of sexual assault, harassment and physical extorsions. The delegation noted that cyberbullying, verbal violence and other forms of emotional violence were becoming more prevalent. Countermeasures would be reinforced.

The delegation said that 71 per cent of students with special needs were enrolled in regular schools. The Government supported integrated education. Compulsory and free education for children with disabilities was becoming more substantive. Special education schools would be extended, and measures would be taken to support mainstream schools that provided integrated education, including through the creation of information sharing hubs and the expansion of the special education teachers pool.

On the guarantee of the right to education of migrant children, the delegation said that children without a stay permit, after graduating from high school, could obtain a visa granting them the right to stay in the Republic Korea for a longer period of time. The right to education was also guaranteed to migrant children in primary and middle schools. Principals could not refuse admission to migrant children without justification; admission was based on school rules. Korean language classes were offered to migrant children.

It was now mandatory to take protection measures to shield migrant children from abuse. Livelihood expenses support was provided to them by shelters, as per an agreement struck by the State party with local governments. Six children had been admitted in shelters.

Child benefits were suspended when the eligible children stayed abroad for more than 90 days. For children with disabilities, benefits were suspended after six months spent abroad. A foreign child that was recognized as a refugee was provided with child benefits.

When considering financing a development project, the relevant governmental entities assessed whether human rights and other cross-sectoral issues had been incorporated. Sector specific instances assessed projects’ impact on human rights. To improve gender equality and foster capacity building amongst girls and women, a special plan had been developed. A remedy system would be established this year to address large-scale human rights violations. Human rights education targeted at businesses involved in development projects would be further expanded.

On out-of-home placement, the delegation said that the number of group homes had gone up to 482 in 2019. The budget allocated to them had been raised by over 15 per cent. The Government would expand the foster care system. In that regard, regional discrepancies in budget allocations were being reduced. The budget allocated to the self-reliance allowance provided to children had been increased.

The law prescribed that if an adopted child was subjected to abuse or abandonment, the adoption could be dissolved but only by a judicial decision. To prevent dissolution, adoption agencies had to provide adoptive parents with pre-adoption education. Following the dissolution of an adoption by a court, the adoption agency launched re-adoption procedures. In that context, in coordination with the local government, it could consider various options, including foster care, admission to child protection facilities, or any other protective measures.

Turning to corporal punishment, the delegation said it was prohibited by Korean legislation on education and human rights. The competent authorities in that regard were local governmental bodies, hence the discrepancies in regulations. The Government would work to harmonize regulations on the prohibition of corporal punishment across the country.

The Government had been continuously raising awareness between 2017 and 2018 to encourage the reporting of child abuse cases. The number of cases reported had subsequently increased. From 21,000 in 2015, it had gone up to 36,000 cases. A nation-wide campaign on the prohibition of corporal punishment had been rolled out.

Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts and Answers by the Delegation

Committee Experts requested more information about education for the parents of children with disabilities; birth registration; the Government’s plan to ratify The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; and the involvement of children in policymaking.

The delegation explained that the age of criminal responsibility was 14 years. The Korean Government would work on other related policies with a cautious approach.

There were two religious organizations that were operating two “baby boxes” in the Republic of Korea. The Government believed that leaving an infant in a “baby box” amounted to child abandonment and this practice had not been institutionalized. The Government provided the concerned children with protection and support. Local Governments took over immediately and took measures for all concerned children to be registered.

The delegation acknowledged that children faced significant academic stress, notably in private education institutions. The Public Education Act stipulated that there should be no classes after or before school hours. Children should only be tested on material that had been included in the official curriculum and covered in class. A new board had been formed to ensure compliance with this act and take corrective measures addressing violations. A system had been put in place for middle school students, providing them with the opportunity to take a break from knowledge-driven education for a predetermined period. In 2018, 68.8 per cent of schools in the country had taken part in it.

The Ministry of Education had developed national standards on sex education. All students were to receive 15 hours of sex education every year. Issues about which there were conflicting views in society were not reflected in those standards. Taking into consideration gender sensitivity and gender-equality matters, teaching material would be developed and distributed upon the completion of a full review.

AMAL ALDOSERI, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, asked if the sex education curriculum covered sexual minorities.

The delegation replied that these matters were not covered by the curriculum. The Government did not have any plans to include them.

Online sex trafficking was on a rapid rise. Random chat applications had been banned for youth and could now only be downloaded following an age verification process. Children and youth targeted or concerned by online trafficking were entitled to protection.

The “Me Too” movement in 2018 had spread across society in the Republic of Korea, including in high schools. In March 2018, the Ministry of Education had created an online reporting centre for victims to be able to denounce perpetrators without fear of reprisal. It was still operational. A total of 292 complaints had been filed. An anonymous reporting function had been added recently. Counselling was also offered to victims in school environments. Victims could also ask to be transferred to other schools if they so wished, following the amendment of the admission and transfer guidelines by the Government.

Concluding Remarks

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, thanked the delegation. The State party was spending a lot of money on education. But this should aim to foster children’s ability to make decisions for themselves by themselves.

GANGLIP KIM, Vice-Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea, thanked non-governmental organizations and Committee Experts. He expressed appreciation for the opportunity to engage in this dialogue. The Republic of Korea had made continuous progress on children’s rights by aligning its laws with the Convention. It had to build on these achievements to move further ahead. The Government would give due consideration to the Committee’s recommendations.

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its openness to engage in a dialogue. The Committee sought to assist the Republic of Korea in implementing the Convention. It would be important to address the situation of the children who were stranded in the airport, he stressed. The Committee was extending its greetings to the children of the Republic of Korea, he concluded.


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