The Korean public has reacted sharply to the story of a family of three taking their own life rather than suffer in extreme poverty. Coverage traces the tragedy back to the mother, the breadwinner of the family, losing her job due to injury. Adding to the tragedy was the fact that existing government programs could have provided the family with health care and financial support, if only they had applied. Coverage echoed similar popular stories of personal tragedy due to inadequate welfare, such as the high school student who collected paper trash on the streets to care for her grandmother or the North Korean defector who turned to prostitution.
Article from Kukmin Ilbo:
Suicide of Three Women in Poverty Highlights S. Korea’s Fragile Safety Net, Drawing Despair Online.
A family of three residing in downtown Seoul took their lives after suffering financial hardship, prompting a cascade of lamentations online.
After the news broke, Netizens reacted with criticism, commenting, “Did this really happen in the capital city of the Republic of Korea in the 21st century?”
Park, a 60-year-old restaurant worker, was found dead in her house late on the night of February 26th, according to a report from the Songpa police.
Alongside the older women were the bodies of her two daughters, the elder daughter was a diabetic, the younger daughter suffered from extensive credit debt.
A white envelope was spotted besides the three bodies, on the front was written, “To our landlord, we are so sorry, this is the last month’s rent and utility bill payment to you.” Inside the envelope was ￦700,000 in cash.
The three women lived in a basement room of a house in Songpa, Seoul. The room was just big enough to fit two beds side by side and was decorated with a framed family picture hanging on the yellowed walls. Now, the happy family in the picture is no longer alive.
The misfortune began with the death of Park’s husband, who lost a struggle with cancer. Despite suffering from hypertension and diabetes, the elder daughter received little medical treatment due to an inability to pay.
The family has been eking out a living while Park was working at a restaurant in a nearby park, the second daughter worked on-and-off as a part-time worker. The meager monthly income the two earned managed to barely cover the living expenses and medical bills for the elder daughter.
The family is said to have never been behind on their ￦380,000 monthly rent or on their ￦200,000 monthly utility bills. But unfortunately, about one month ago Park is said to have gotten severely hurt after falling down to the ground on her way home from the restaurant.
The injury forced Park to quit her job, cutting off the family’s only source of regular income.
Apparently driven to into a hopeless situation by the resulting financial crisis, the family turned to the extreme option of suicide.
The dead bodies were discovered by the police, who went to the basement home after the landlord, 73-year-old Lim, filed a report. The landlord said, “My suspicion grew after I found that there was no sound except for the television inside the room, so I reported it to the police.”
When the police arrived at the scene of the suicide, the windows were sealed with green box taping and there was a bowl on the ground containing ashes from a burned charcoal briquette. The door to the room was blocked with a bed behind it. The pet cat was found dead besides the the bodies. After seeing the white envelope, Lim murmured gently, “and she was such a nice person…”
Police speculate that the three women committed suicide as there is no sign of a break in or homicide.
Netizens said after the incident, “I long for a Korea where this kind of sad incident does not happen more so than a Korea that exports more goods and hosts international sporting events.”
Another comment said, “One woman’s injury resulted in the death of three women. Do we really live in a 21st century South Korea? This incident brings me to tears. Though sad at the news, I am, on the other hand, angered by the powerless government which failed to extend a helping hand to them.”
Comments from Daum:
While poor people were suffering in this wretched situation, a big sum of money was wasted on river beds. [referring to former President Lee Myung-bak's controversial four-river refurbishment project] And we are even told to buy houses on bank loans by some bastards. [referring to the current government's housing policy]
I am a mother with three daughters. I also have a hard time, but I can’t get any help from the government because our daughters are all adults.
Shouldn’t she have at least received unemployment benefits? She had a sick daughter, and she couldn’t work at that time because she was hurt. In this case, the unemployment benefits should have been paid to her. How pitiful this is!
[Then presidential candidate Park Geun hye] delivered packed lunches to seniors who live alone at their houses during the election campaign.
노크테: [responding to above]
Politicians staged a show for votes during the election campaign. The problem is that naive people play into their hands.
This article is really heart breaking, bringing me to tears while I am reading it. I hope the three women will rest in peace. You are much better persons than some sons of bitches who filed for bankruptcy after stashing big money elsewhere and run away with impunity.
Please, hike taxes for the rich.
I was wondering whether the Blue House heard this news.
sysy: [responding to above]
I think Seoul City mayor Park Won-soon needs to check this out.
감성돔: [responding to 소마]
I bet this will be filtered out by the civil affairs secretary of the Blue House.
뽀더: [responding to 소마]
Don’t you know the President doesn’t listen?
There is no more hope in the Republic of Korea…
[Policy makers] ask people to have more babies in a country like this.
This is the grim reality facing poor people in South Korea. What has Park Geun-hye been doing?