02/24/2006, 00.00
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New legislation against sex offences involving minors

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
Government and opposition are working together on a new bill to deal with the problem. In 2005 police reported 738 sex offence cases against minors under the age of 13. A repeat offender was involved in 11.4 per cent of the cases.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – South Koreans are fed up with sex crimes and want tougher laws against rape and sexual violence against minors after an elementary school girl in Seoul was sexually assaulted and killed by a 53-year-old man, identified as Kim, who had a history of sex offences.

Sex crimes on minors remain a serious problem in South Korea. According to police figures, last year there were 738 cases involving children under the age of 13, 15 more than the previous year.

To prevent such crimes, the Justice Ministry announced that it is preparing new legislation that would include tightening up the curfew on sexual offenders.

The main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) is backing the bill which would also include the use of electronic bracelets or watches to track the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders.

The GNP had already tabled a bill last year but the plan failed against opposition from some civic groups, who equated such devices to a "scarlet letter" and fear they might lead to human rights abuses.

Research by the National Commission on Youth Protection indicates however that 11.4 per cent of all cases involved repeat offenders; countermeasures to prevent repeated crimes are thus something urgent.

It was the case for the aforementioned Kim, who, according to police, raped a five-year-old girl last June in a bar in front of the girl's house. He was released last September after being sentenced to a suspended one-year jail term.

Many neighbours of the sex offender said they were "shocked" by the crime and surprised they hadn't been informed that Kim had a sex crime record.

"If we had known that Kim had been convicted of a sex crime, the tragedy would not have happened because people would have been more cautious of him," neighbours said.

The Youth Commission and a private association released photos and information about sex offenders involved in crimes against minors since 2001, but they were stopped by the National Human Rights Commission which argued that the range of information made public was "too broad", that it could infringe on the offenders' privacy.

The Juvenile Sex Protection Act was revised so that only a small circle of people, such as sex crime victims, their family members and officials of child care facilities would be privy to information on sex offenders. But for Lee Kyong-eun, a Youth Commission member, "more detailed personal information on sex offenders, including their pictures and home addresses, should be provided to all, not just a restricted number of people".

"In the United States, sex offenders are required to report to the police every time they move. Their new address and picture is posted by the police so their neighbours know what to do," Lee said.

She added that personal information is made public only for repeat sex offenders and those who pose a great threat to children.

For other experts, the problem can only be tackled if there are fundamental reforms. "Making sex offenders wear electronic devices is not a solution," said an official with the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Centre. "It is important though that politicians are at least talking about doing something to solve the problem, but structural changes are needed, including harsher sentences for sex offenders and education programmes".



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