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Children of Migrant Workers Left Neglected in Korea

Posted May. 16, 2009 22:01,   


On the evening of Christmas Day last year, a 16-year-old Bangladeshi boy, Mizan Mohamad, jumped into train tracks between Shindorim and Yeongdeungpo stations. His feet and several fingers had to be amputated as a result.

A police officer quoted the boy as saying, “I attempted suicide because living as an illegal migrant worker is so hard.”

Mohamad was admitted to a hospital in Seoul with help from Korea Railroad police. Three months after the incident, however, he hanged himself at a hospital restroom.

The Bangladeshi had arrived in Korea in fall 2007 following his 41-year-old brother, who ran a business and split his time between Korea and Bangladesh. Mohamad worked as a manual worker for a printing company in Seoul’s Dongdaemun district, but was left alone in Korea after his brother returned home last year.

Some say Mohamad killed himself out of loneliness while others say hospital bills that reached 16 million won (12,700 U.S. dollars) caused him to take his own life. Though requested to leave the hospital, he left because he could not pay the bill and his guarantors were of no help to him.

After his suicide, the Seoul Migrant Center and the Migrant Health Association in Korea paid six million won (4,750 dollars) of his hospital bills and the remaining expenses were absorbed by the hospital.

Despite his death, nobody from his home country came to Korea to take the body. His brother asked the center to send Mohamad`s remains to Bangladesh, saying visiting would change nothing, according to a center official.

○ Lack of medical treatment

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child says every child under 18 has the right to a living standard adequate for physical, mental and social development. Korea became a signatory to the convention in 1991.

For children of illegal migrant workers, however, the convention is useless. Fear of deportation prevents them from seeing doctors. Furthermore, they cannot afford hospital treatment because of no health insurance.

A baby girl born last year in Korea showed cold symptoms several months ago, but could not see a doctor. As a result, her condition turned into pneumonia. Her parents, undocumented workers from Peru, sought no medical attention for their daughter because of hefty medical fees and the fear of capture by immigration authorities.

According to the Korea Immigration Service, some 17,000 undocumented children under age 16 reside in Korea as of March. The government has failed to provide them with access to medical care, however.

The Migrant Health Association in Korea, a private organization, has set up a network of hospitals to provide health services for migrant workers, but because such hospitals are limited in number and proximity, illegal foreign workers use nearby hospitals.

○ Few children of migrant workers attend school

Korean law allows undocumented children to attend school, but reality paints a different picture.

A 12-year-old from a Philippine household was admitted to elementary school in Seoul after being rejected by three schools due to opposition from Korean parents. The school that eventually admitted him was also reluctant to do so at first, but he got help from Seongdong Migrant Center.

Shin Hye-yeong, in charge of education for children of migrant workers at the center, said, “Forty percent of elementary schools refuse to take children of migrant workers,” adding, “Given the difficulty in getting a primary education as guaranteed by law, it`s obvious they will face more difficulty in getting a secondary education.”

According to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, 1,402 of 17,000 children of migrant workers attend school – 981 in elementary, 314 in middle, and 107 in high school. This means that most of the children are being left uneducated.

Certain children are getting education from facilities run by welfare organizations for migrant workers, yet cannot get the same quality of education as in regular public schools. Worse, the number of students in such facilities has declined due to the economic crisis.

Lee Ki-yeong, a social welfare professor at Pusan National University, said, “Eighty to 90 percent of children of migrant workers have no choice but to live with their parents in Korea,” adding, “The government should guarantee these children access to health care and education from a humanitarian perspective.”

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