By Jennifer Chang:
Parental pressure to achieve good grades has led to a soaring number of children on the streets who are selling sex.
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2012 08:44
Seoul, South Korea – South Korea is paying a high price for its rigorous education system – a major reason for its economic success – with teenagers increasingly turning to prostitution after fleeing home to escape academic pressure.
An estimated 200,000 youths – at least 60 per cent female teenagers – roam the country’s streets. About half have worked as underage prostitutes, according to the latest government figures.
Many say they initially ran away to be with friends instead of studying, and later ended up selling their bodies to earn money to survive.
“In high school, I would say that massive academic pressure is the main driver pushing kids onto the streets,” says a professor at a prominent South Korean university, who requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity in the country.
This reporter spent several weeks talking to runaway girls. All were between age 12 and 18, and their names have been changed to protect their identities.
Most lived in a “runaway family”, the term they use to describe a group of teenagers who meet in Internet chat rooms and develop relationships based on selling sex.
Such “families” often sleep together in hotel rooms where they’ve sold sex beforehand. Or they’re made up of one or more underage prostitutes who seek shelter in rooms owned by individuals who, in return, expect them to do anything from chores to selling sex.
The prostitution problem in South Korea continues to stump authorities. An estimated 1.2 million women are believed involved in the business – or about 20 per cent of all South Korean women aged 15-29.
From schoolgirl to working girl
Yu-ja, 18, says she first ran away at age 12 from her parent’s home so she wouldn’t have to study, and could instead, “play, chat and smoke with her school friends all night at playgrounds”. She left for a few days, sleeping on subway trains.
The professor says “intense pressure” on students begins as early as age 12.
“High school students are being forced to study every day after school until late at night, often until 1am, by their parents so they can get into a good college, a requisite for obtaining high-paying jobs,” he says.
‘Nut rage’ in S Korea spotlights culture of punishing long hours: here.
Ex-prostitutes say South Korea enabled sex trade near U.S. military bases: here.
- Seoul searching: how politics plays out in South Korean cinema (guardian.co.uk)