Sales of CCTV cameras in South Korea surge amid concern over child abuse

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK/REUTERS) - Sales of CCTV cameras have increased sharply after the government unveiled its plan requiring all day care centres to install the surveillance devices, officials said.

Data from online shopping mall Auction showed on Sunday that its CCTV camera sales from Jan 9 to 22 increased by 40 per cent compared to the same period last year.

G Market, another online retailer, saw an on-year increase of 56 per cent over the last two weeks.

The increase in sales is likely to have been sparked by nationwide concerns about child safety, after a recent incident at a day care center in Songdo, Incheon, where a worker beat a 4-year-old girl for not finishing her food.

"It is not uncommon for a social issue to affect sales, but this particular case has even larger ramifications given that it's related to children's safety. We are seeing sales increase for not only institutions, but individual customers as well," said an Auction official.

An increasing number of individual consumers purchased surveillance cameras that they could install in their homes and link to their smartphones, which allowed them to keep an eye on their children while at work. Auction said it had sold two to six times more of these "network" surveillance cameras in the past two weeks.

Auction cited the day-care abuse case and demand from child care centres, as well as rising camera use by hospitals and other public facilities, fuelling the rise in sales. “It looks like there was a large impact with CCTV cameras because they are related to children’s safety,” said Mr Kim Sun Seok, who manages the sale of digital products at Auction.Ms Lee Ki Sook of Ewha Women’s University, who teaches early childhood education, said day-care centres also need to tighten staff certification procedures and increase wages to address the problem of abuse. “Installing CCTV cameras won’t solve everything,” she said.

According to the Justice Ministry, the number of child abuse cases in Korea has been on the rise. Monthly reported cases went from 1,038 in 2013 to 1,416 in 2014, an increase of over 30 percent.

Policymakers held a ministerial-level meeting to discuss possible measures to reduce child abuse, such as toughening requirements for child care workers and ensuring stern punishment for abusers. The meeting was presided over by Hwang Woo Yea, the education minister and deputy prime minister for social affairs.

"Child abuse is a serious crime that must be rooted out in our society. Authorities must sternly enforce punishment of perpetrators and the facilities they are affiliated with," Hwang said at the meeting on Saturday, also attended by the ministers of justice, welfare, gender equality and family, at the Korea Childcare Promotion Institute. National Police Agency Chief Kang Sin Myeong was also present, as was Yoo Jeong Bok, mayor of Incheon.

After the Incheon incident, officials vowed a series of measures against child abuse such as a "one strike" system, in which a day care centre would be shut down after a single case of child abuse and the head of the facility would be permanently banned from holding similar jobs.

Some parents have kept their children at home amid angry demands for measures to protect children, including more cameras and tighter screening of staff, as subsequent footage of other day-care abuse incidents emerged.

The ministers attending Saturday's meeting agreed on mandatory installation of closed circuit television cameras at all day care centers and pushing for tougher punishment of perpetrators. They also discussed the possibility of holding personality tests for all child care workers and implementing character education courses for future workers, as part of the effort to require higher qualifications for child care workers.

Another issue discussed at the meeting was the relatively poor working conditions of child care workers, which some experts have said are the underlying cause of the abuse cases. The average monthly salary for day care centre workers in Cheonju, North Chungcheong Province, ranged from 1.1 million won to 1.5 million won (S$1,375-S$1,875), according to the city government. The legal minimum monthly salary for 2014 was 1.09 million won, based on minimum wage and a 40-hour work week.

Minister Hwang said the government must apply tougher job requirements for child care facilities, but at the same time it needs to "improve the working conditions (of child care workers) so they can put all their efforts into taking care of children.

"Some 20 issues were discussed at the meeting, which will be reviewed at respective ministries. We'll hold another ministerial-level meeting in early February, where we will announce comprehensive countermeasures (for child abuse)."