Public rage over a child abuse case that resulted in the death of Jeong-in, an adopted 16-month-old toddler, is building up in Korea.
Child abuse is when someone causes injury, death, emotional harm, or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child abuse, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Every five minutes, a child dies as a result of abuse. And Jeongin was another victim of child abuse.
Jeongin was born on 10 June 2019. Her biological mother could not raise her for her own reasons and that’s why Jeongin was growing up at a foster home since she was 8 days old. When she turned 2 months old, she was matched with her adoptive parents. Finally when she was 8 months old, she got adopted in January 2020 by a couple with a 4-year-old biological daughter. The father was an employee of a broadcasting company and the mother was an interpreter. Her adoptive mother used to visit Jeongin every month during the whole adoption process. And that’s why everyone assumed that Jeongin was going to have a lovely family. Also, everybody described her parents as good and sweet persons.
After receiving the court approval, Jeongin became a family with her adoptive parents last February. The parents even appeared on a programme by a Korea Educational Broadcasting System EBS, pretending to be a wholesome, loving family. The adoptive father Ahn even stated, “I wanted to show the world that not only celebrities, but also people like us can choose to adopt. Adoption is not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to be celebrated.” But did he do? Just watched the innocent child getting abused by the mother.
After 9 months of her adoption, on 13 October 2020, 16-month-old Jeongin passed away. In the ER she was in a horrible unimaginable condition. This was only 271 days after heradoption. Her body was covered with bruises. Her abdominal area was filled with blood which leaked from the damaged intestines in her body. The medical team said that the damage done to the baby was not the result of a simple accident, but rather a result of child abuse. And they decided to alert the police about the mother. But she is constantly stating that it was an accident. However, the police announced that Jang had filmed over 800 videos of herself physically and mentally abusing Jung In. She only weighed 8 kilograms at the age of 16 months. When she was adopted, she was 7 months and weighed 9 kilograms. They probably didn’t even let her eat and sleep properly.
A South Korean broadcaster SBS aired an episode of its investigations in the show named "Unanswered Questions". It focused on the death of Jeongin, drawing attention to the public and police to arrest the adoptive parents. They received about 200 e-mails reported on the case of Jeong-in. The public was further outraged when they learned that the police did nothing even though they received three separate reports related to the abuse of Jeongin.
The show explained that there needs to be a force of 3,800 – 4,200N for a three-year-old child to receive a severity three level of damage to the abdomen. Then, to figure out exactly how much abusive behavior reaches 3,800 – 4,200N in force, the episode carried out a series of experiments with a mannequin and a female staff who is similar in height and weight as the adoptive mother Jang. Initially, the female tried dropping the mannequin from her height — as Jang had described to the police when questioned about Jung In’s bruises and fractures. This inflicted a force of 1,433N. Then she reached 1,778N by stepping on the mannequin laid on the floor and 1,927N when she stood on top of the mannequin. It was still far below the estimated range. But then a professional boxer reached 4,387N by throwing a full-forced, heavy blow to a mannequin propped against a wall. Just imagine how hard it has been for Jeongin.
A worker of the daycare center where Jeongin was made the first report of suspected child abuse to the Police after she found bruises on Jeong-in’s body. The parents told police that they probably massaged her too hard, and the police believed them. Then the couple tried to keep Jeong-in at home instead of sending her to daycare. For 3 months she only showed up at the center only six times. But, the couple’s biological daughter had no absences. In June, the police received a report that Jeong-in was left alone inside a parked car. And in September, a child doctor who treated Jeong-in also reported suspected child abuse to the police. But, again the police closed all of the three investigations by saying they could find no evidence.Basically she was ignored by the police which now caused her horrible death only at the age of 1 year and 4 months.
According to the National Forensic Service, Jeong-in’s cause of death was serious internal bleeding of her organs caused by an external force. Police concluded that the couple started abusing Jeong-in only one month after the adoption. Last November, the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office accused the adoptive mother for child abuse and the father for negligence. The mother’s trial will begin on Jan. 13 in the Seoul Southern District Court. The Blue House gives a response to petitions that have more than 200,000 signatures. But a petition was submitted to the Blue House bulletin board about the death of Jeongin to upgrade the charges and received over 230,000 signatures.
Korean celebrities also helped raise awareness of injustices and abuses that led to a child’s death. Hashtags relating to this case, including “Jeong-in-ah, I’m sorry”/ “sorry-Jeongin”, trended in South Korea, and many celebrities posted in relation to the injustice. Despite the public's outrage over the death of Jeong-in, child abuse cases have shown few signs of abating since 2010. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare's "Child abuse annual report 2019," there have been 41,389 cases of child abuse, resulting in 42 deaths, in 2019. And during this time of pandemic with kids stuck at home, ER doctors are seeing more severe cases of child abuse.
To prevent damage caused by child abuse, it is necessary to spread social awareness about the severity of child abuse, prevent the occurrence of child abuse, and protect and support the victimised children through policy efforts and attention. Don’t ignore when you see a child being abused, step forward and save the child.
Nufaiysa M Rahman is an 8th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka