South Korea's youth suicide rate falls slightly

SEOUL (AFP) - The suicide rate among young South Koreans dipped slightly in 2012, government data showed on Monday, offering some encouragement to official efforts to address a long-standing problem in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

State-run Statistics Korea said the number of suicides per 100,000 South Koreans aged 15 to 24 stood at 11.4 in 2012, compared to 13 in 2011.

Suicide has been the leading cause of death among the age group since the mid-2000s, surpassing traffic accidents that caused 6.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2012.

The government has taken various measures to reduce the suicide rate, setting up hotlines, providing counselling and installing anti-suicide monitors on bridges.

Although such efforts appear to have had some impact, the rate still ranks highest among the 34 member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Statistics Korea said more than 11 percent of those aged 13 to 24 confessed to having suicidal thoughts, with nearly 30 percent of those citing scholastic pressure.

Dozens of teenagers kill themselves every year around South Korea's hyper-competitive college entrance exam, unable to cope with the intense scholastic and parental pressure to secure a place in a top university.

While media reports on South Korea's high suicide rate have tended to focus on young people, there has been an alarming surge in suicides among those over 65 years of age.

Modernisation and shifting social priorities have left many elderly Koreans feeling isolated and financially vulnerable.

Social workers say many take their own lives for fear of being a burden on their children's families.

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