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Time to check on the neighbors first

Posted August. 24, 2022 07:47,   

Updated August. 24, 2022 07:47


A mother and two daughters were found dead at a walk-up in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. The mother in her 60s was battling cancer, and her two daughters in their 40s also suffered from a rare and incurable disease. They were under abject poverty, but they had no one to turn to or nowhere to go. They were forced to move to their current location because of debt, but they did not file their move officially, rendering them ineligible to receive welfare benefits, and unable to apply for welfare services such as basic livelihood security.

President Yoon Suk-yeol said Tuesday during a short Q&A session on his way to work, "Special measures are needed for those who are not properly included by the welfare information system." He promised that the government and political circles will come up with various measures, such as the expansion of relevant systems and manpower to track those in extreme situations, and revision of the manual. But will these promises be enough to prevent another tragedy from occurring?

The tragedy of the mother and two daughters in Suwon reminds us of the case of another mother and two daughters in Songpa, who made an extreme decision after leading a harsh life caused by welfare blind spots eight years ago. After the heartbreaking story of these three, who were excluded from the basic livelihood benefits, became known, a system to connect public welfare networks such as the welfare blind spot discovery system was launched. However, it was practically useless to the mother and the daughters in Suwon, with different addresses of registry and actual residency.

Of course, the institution and system need to be improved. It is the fundamental duty of the modern welfare state to induce those in crisis to seek help from the state or local governments, or to find and reach out to them first. However, it is not the sole responsibility of the central government or local governments to lend a helping hand. Is each of us free from that responsibility, dismissing it as the responsibility of the state or society and indifferent to the potential tragedy of our neighbors?

The reality is that those at the end of their lives do not know whether such help is available or where they can reach out to it. The other day In Gwangju, a college freshman from an orphanage who lived alone in a dormitory during vacation was found dead. In the note he left, he said, “I am at a loss as to how to live on.” The recent tragedy of the family of three who died in a semi-underground home after heavy rain in Sillim-dong, Seoul is an example of a harsher and more unfair reality for the poor hit by actual natural disasters.

In our society, the emotional community offering bond with neighbors is long gone. Furthermore, the reality is that personal contact has become highlight unlikely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the tragedy of the mother and daughters above is not something we can only see in the news or in movies, but rather what is happening right now as we speak. Chuseok holiday will be here in two weeks, and it's time to exercise a minimum social decency as a responsible citizen and care for those around us.