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Individualising traditional values fails to break poverty

SOUTH KOREA: Individualising traditional values fails to break the chain of poverty

A mother and her two daughters were found dead in Seoul on February 26. According to the media, they committed suicide due to poverty. The mother had been working in a restaurant for a living since the father passed away 12 years ago. Due to chronic disease, two daughters worked part time and gave up their medical treatment. In January, the 61-year-old mother injured her arm thus making her incapable of continuing work. As a last resort of seeking relief from their poverty they decided to commit suicide. They left a short note which said, "To landlord…, we are sorry. Here is last rental payment and public imposts. We are deeply sorry".

This incident raised doubts on whether the national basic livelihood security system is appropriate to protect those who suffer from poverty in the absence of an established national social safety net. The three were the most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and they should have been categorised as strong candidates, entitled to be protected by such a security system. In fact, a relevant legislation, so-called, 'National Basic Living Security Act' aimed at guaranteeing a minimum standard of living and helping self-support for those who are need, exists. Reportedly, the three did not have access to the Act. It seems that they are unaware of such system, they might have failed to be protected from the Act due to administrative failures, or they might have chosen not to do so for some unknown reasons. If it is the former two, then, the question must be raised on whether the marginalised individuals and groups are well protected under the Act.

In connection to this, it is alarming that the suicidal rate of the elderly over 65 years has increased four times in recent years. Many suicidal cases of the elderly have been reported. Their last will left behind is the frustration that they were left out of the protection of such Act on the ground that one of their adult children had got a job, meaning that they were able to take care of the elderly. It is a traditional value in Korean society that the adult child/children have a duty to support parents once they are grown up. This value has been incorporated into national policy as well as Act that obliges adult children to support their parents. For this reason, the elderly who do not want to lean on or give financial burden to their children commit suicide rather than being supported by them in witnessing their suffering if they were out of protection of such policy and Act. Obviously, this will have more impact on a household with a disabled person. Thus, the system established for the protection of the most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups has played a negative role in adding to the problems of the people it is trying to help due to traditional values. Those who cannot bear poverty cannot help but to make an extreme decision.

It was announced that one of top priorities of the current government's task was to find out leakage of the government budget allocated for welfare and punish those responsible who misuse such budget. For its implementation, relating government ministries set up a task force and started their 100-day-long campaign to eradicate such leakages. In early February, many 'successful' stories are reported to the media. In fact, the budget wrongly paid to the marginalised was so trivial comparing to the achievement. Clearly, the government seems to have either failed to see it through or overlooked the real problem sustaining its policy and the Act.

To those who sacrificed themselves to support their family members and who made an enormous contribution to the economic growth in Korean society it is time for the government and all political parties to show their respect and appreciation. Furthermore, it is high time to change the traditional value system and move toward sustainable values for the development of the society. The traditional value of the duty to support shall no longer lie at the hands of their adult children but rather those of the government. If not for all, then start at least for those who are the most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups in the society. This is in fact a promise to keep traditional values of taking care of others rather than individualising it by imposing legal duty on the impoverished to support the more impoverished. This change will be the cornerstone to break the chain of poverty in the society and provide more opportunity for the marginalised to help towards their self-support in the long run. It is only when this is done that the sort of tragic incidents will be prevented.

ENDS


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