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`Safety at Children`s Facilities Sees Little Improvement`

`Safety at Children`s Facilities Sees Little Improvement`

Posted June. 29, 2009 09:29,   


A decade has passed since a fire at a youth camp killed scores of kindergarteners in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, but safety for Korean children has hardly gotten better.

Safety experts will hold today a forum on children’s safety culture over the past 10 years at Olympic Parktel in Seoul. Hosted by the Korea Child Safety Foundation, the event will discuss safety problems at children’s training centers, school and kindergarten buses, and childcare facilities.

Yoo Jin-i, the head of the Korea Youth Facilities Environment Society, said, “Our survey has found that certain private facilities, including educational centers and campgrounds, were built with aged and flammable materials and are using deserted school buildings more than 20 years old as youth training facilities.”

“Such facilities run a high risk of fire due to wooden materials used on sleeping room floors and substandard electric circuits.”

Government assessment of fire is conducted only on newly built buildings and facilities with a floor space of 3,000 square meters or more. Most training facilities are small in scale, however, and are thus not subject to regulations.

Experts also say school buses, kindergartens and childcare centers used daily by children pose safety hazards. Park Seon-yeong, a researcher at the Korea Transportation Safety Authority, said, “Some 1.2 million child-related facilities nationwide, including schools, kindergartens and hakwon (private academic institutes) operate 179,819 buses, but only 18,157 buses, or 10.1 percent, were officially registered as vehicles for child transportation as of 2006.”

Operators are not registering buses because of strict vehicle safety standards that are expensive to meet, including those governing seat belts and seat height for children.

Also, up to 40 percent of drivers of buses for school and childcare facilities are not employees of those facilities, but are outsourced.

Park said, “The operation of most buses is outsourced to private bus companies, which is illegal. The number of accidents involving children’s buses has grown from 695 in 2007 (23 children killed) to 702 cases (19 children killed) last year.”

Kim Hyeon-ja, a professor at Doowon Technological College, said, “The number of safety accidents at childcare centers and kindergartens has jumped more than five times from 30 in 2004 to 175 last year.”

About 40 percent of all young children in Korea, or 1.1 million, were using childcare facilities as of late last year.

Experts say Korea’s rate of accidental childhood deaths due to fire and traffic accidents is the third highest among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development at 4.4 percent, trailing only Mexico and the U.S. They also suggested an agency to comprehensively supervise and protect child safety in Korea.