Family, the hearth to which weary hearts may turn for respite. The safe haven where love and warmth abound, two things increasingly more difficult to find outside it today. Where any and all actions that are taken must be understood, accepted, or eventually forgiven in the name of blood-borne love. Or so one wouldnaively wish.
The concept of family, whether it be extended or nuclear, has long been upheld as a place of rest, provision, and limitless compassion—in sharp contrast to the hurt and fatigue that accumulate at school or work. As such, not many people ponder the fact that family is just as potentially hurtful as strangers.
In March 2017, a man in Jungnang-gu killed his mother for her inheritance. In July, a mother choked then murdered her crying infant, thinking she had given her child brain damage. And recently, shards of evidence regarding so-called Molar Daddy Lee Young Hak have been pieced together to form a chilling family portrait—a long-abused wife sold into prostitution and a daughter’s disease exploited for money. Domestic violence cases have been rising for the last few years; in particular, child abuse steadily increased from 2001 to 2015. There are two common reactions to cases like these: to be saddened at the travesty of a home the victims had to endure and to begin questioning whether the ideal of family holds any truth.
No ideal can stand strong without real-life structures to back it up. Sadly, Korea’s legal safeguards concerning family still leave something to be desired. Kaitlyn’s Law, which forbids parents from leaving their children unattended in cars, took effect in the United States (U.S.) as early as 2002; however, it was only in October this year that the same law was formally proposed here. Further, according to an interview with lawmaker Geum Tae-Sub in The Women’s News, Korea is also yet to provide detailed statistics on how each domestic violence case was sortedand handled, making it difficult for crimes to be tracked accurately. Laws and policies are no panaceas, but consistent amendments and the passing of new laws can help to ensure that families carry out their protective functions correctly at the very least.
It is far more difficult to restore emotional functionality in a broken family. Korean families are still shackled byConfucianist values to a large extent, which means thatthere is more of a focus on the sanctity of family than the individual well-being of its members, on which a family’s unity depends. This is also reflected in the Act on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection, Etc. of Victims, which has not undergone any modification since its passing in 1997, yet another sign of how outdated Korean society’s approach to the institution of family has become.
Since individualism took hold of Korean society, a greater window has been opened for people to express their innate and neutral selfishness; combined with the traditional emphasis on the home, this has produced a vaguely-defined concept of family where a sense of entitlement reigns, and this has only worsened with the economy’s decline. Deepdown, children expect their parents to be a patient giver and the close connection parents feel for children can easily switch to a controlling attitude. Instability has led parents to cosset their children economically while saddling the individual family members with higher levels of stress.
In a society where the present and future both seemto be built on sand, it is too easy to forget that family is not a magical sanctuary. It is true that the home is the best bet to find the warmth and protection humanity so craves, and it often is. To sustain this state of security and comfort, however, certain conditions must be met: society must begin to look more closely at the people who form the home and strengthen the laws that apply to them accordingly, and family members must see each other as individuals with needs and weaknesses of their own.