South Korean police swamped with child abuse complaints after nursery incident

SEOUL (Korea Herald/Asia News Network) - Reports of suspected child abuse cases have flooded local police offices, officials said, as authorities scrambled to deal with public uproar sparked by alleged abuse at an Incheon day care centre.

A 33-year-old worker at the centre was caught on CCTV slapping and punching a four-year-old child for not finishing her meal, in footage that has gone viral since it was released by the police earlier this week. The worker also reportedly made death threats to another child. A court issued an arrest warrant for her on Saturday.

Incheon's Samsan Police Station said Saturday that it had begun an investigation into a claim that a 25-year-old day care worker in Bugae-dong, Incheon, abused several preschool children.

The accused worker has admitted to the accusations, and police are planning to take her into custody after conducting further investigation into surveillance footage at the center.

Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency said it has booked three teachers at an English kindergarten in Bucheon, between Seoul and Incheon, on suspicion of mistreating children and the manager for allegedly overlooking the abuse. The parents of children at the kindergarten had filed complaints against them to local police in November, claiming the teachers took the students to dark rooms to beat them.

Officials said the suspected abusers have admitted to using disciplinary measures, but denied using violence.

"The CCTV images show the teachers taking the children to a blind spot of the cameras, but it is not enough to say with certainty that there has been violence," an official said. But as the surveillance images do show the children being punished, police are planning to recommend to the prosecutors that they indict the accused.

A parent of a three-year-old in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, also filed complaints to the police that her son may have been mistreated at a day care centre, after she found bruises on his buttocks.

Since the case in Incheon came to light, the government has unveiled plans to toughen punishments for child abuse by child care workers. Both the ruling Saenuri Party and the Welfare Ministry have also proposed security measures, including requiring surveillance cameras and strengthening the required qualifications for staff at child care centres.

The authorities will also implement a "one strike" system, in which a day care centre would be shut down after a single case of child abuse is found. The perpetrator and the head of the facility would also be permanently banned from working in similar jobs.

Even child care workers themselves said the government needs to implement stricter standards for day care workers.

Hwangbo Eun Hee, who studies early childhood education at Sookmyung University, carried out a survey on workers in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, 87 percent said they thought the current vetting system needs improvement.

The respondents also generally welcomed the idea of conducting a personality evaluation and aptitude tests when certifying child care workers, giving the idea an average of 4.19 points out of 5.

Last week, Representative Shin Hak Yong of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy proposed a bill mandating character education in the training course for child care workers at colleges.

"There has been nationwide concern over the qualifications of child care workers. We (lawmakers) need to ensure such concerns are addressed and the qualified workers are not penalised in any way," said Shin. "The bill will contribute to find effective countermeasures (against child abuse by child care workers)."