SEOUL (AFP) - A law allowing South Korean parents to physically discipline their children is to be scrapped, the authorities said, prompting controversy in a country where hierarchical family values still dominate.
The reporting of child abuse - including neglect and emotional abuse as well as physical or sexual assaults - rose more than 10-fold between 2001 and 2017 to 22,386 cases, with 77 per cent of the perpetrators known to be the victims' parents.
"More in our society agree that child abuse is a serious social problem," Seoul's Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo told reporters. "But many are still lenient about corporal punishment. The ministry is to change this perception."
The rights of parents to physically discipline their children will be removed from the country's civil code, he said, where they have been stated since 1960. Physical punishment was also allowed in schools until 2010.
A recent government survey showed that 76.8 per cent of adult South Koreans feel corporal punishment is necessary, and Thursday's (May 23) announcement prompted controversy.
Ms Lee Kyung-ja, head of a conservative group of parents, was adamantly opposed to any change.
"I'm going to continue beating my kids even if it requires writing a contract with them," she told AFP.
"I'll refuse to give them food and pay for their tuition if they don't listen to their parents - this is how I'll re-establish my rights as a parent."
South Korean children have been repeatedly cited as the least happy in the OECD group of developed countries. They face a high-pressure education system and deeply rooted traditional values which emphasise obedience and respect towards parents and authority figures.
Young victims of domestic violence are especially vulnerable, as filing a complaint or publicly criticising a parent can be considered a disgrace - or even a "sin against heaven".
With few facilities available for abuse victims, many parents facing prosecution have had their charges dropped as there is no one else to care for their children, said youth rights activist Kang Min-jin.
Earlier this year, a 12-year-old girl who reported abuse by both her biological father and her stepfather to police was murdered by the step-parent.
"Many Koreans still view their children as their properties rather than separate human beings who have their own set of opinions and judgement," said activist Kang.
But Mr Lee Hee-bum, who leads the conservative Freedom Union group, said the government decision amounted to state interference in personal and family lives.
"One should be able to decide how to parent his or her kids independently," he said.