NHRCK Chairperson’s Statement on Deaths of Unregistered Children
-Tragic deaths of unregistered children highlights the need to introduce legal requirements to report children’s births-
An 8-year old child was killed by her birthmother on January 8 and found a week later. Back in November 2019, a two-month-old baby was found dead in a refrigerator at home. The two children were the victims of abuse who died tragically without being registered at birth.
To strengthen protection of unregistered children from abuse by parents or other caregivers and prevent the recurrence of such tragic child abuse incidents, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea renews its call for the introduction of legal requirements to report children’s death, which obligates medical workers who were involved in the delivery of a baby to report his or her birth to government or public agencies.
The current Act on the Registration of Family Relations sets out the principle that a child’s birth should be registered by her or his parents. Therefore, a child cannot be registered when the parents neglect or deliberately dodge their duty of birth registration for such reasons as their reluctance to disclose the baby’s birth to other persons.
In November 2017, the Commission released a recommendation calling on the government and the judicial branch to revise the Act on the Registration of Family Relations to impose a duty on doctors and midwives who were involved in the delivery of a baby to report the baby‘s birth to government or public institutions and issued an opinion the National Assembly in this regard.
In May 2019, the Commission released a statement on the occasion of the 97th Children’s Day to emphasize that registration of a child immediately after birth is the first step towards protecting the rights of the child and reiterates its call for the government and the National Assembly to revise laws relating to child birth registration to bring them to protect the best interests of the child, as set forth in Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In releasing the statement, the Commission defined the failure to register the child’s birth as a form of physical neglect, exposing the child to the risk of physical, psychological or sexual abuse by caregivers or others around them and leaving the State unaware of the grave damages inflicted upon them. The Commission also noted with concern a high probability of medical neglect(failure to get a child vaccinated or provide them with proper medical care) and educational neglect(failure to enroll a child of mandatory school age in school).
The respondent institutions of the recommendation issued by the Commission in 2017 agreed with the Commission’s intention to protect children from dangers through the State’s official recognition of a child’s birth. The government, on its part, announced a plan to introduce a birth notification system with the release of the national child policy for an inclusive state in 2019 and the second master plan for child policy in 2020, but concrete plans have not yet been released. The 21st session of the National Assembly has proposed partial amendments to the Act on the Registration etc. of Family Relationships, but the amendments are still pending at the legislature.
The recent media reports covering the deaths of unregistered children have prompted growing calls for the reform of the current child birth registration system as a first step to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again.
In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated in its concluding observations on the fifth and sixth State Reports of the Republic of Korea that the State should simplify the birth registration process so that every child can be registered immediately after birth irrespective of their parents’ legal status or place of birth.
The Commission strongly urges the government and the National Assembly to introduce legal requirements on the reporting of the child’s birth in accordance with the recommendations from domestic and international organizations. Birth registration provides the foundation for the protection of other rights that every child deserves, including the right to be protected from all forms of violence, the right to receive education that suits their development levels and the right to grow up in a safe and healthy environment.
The Commission will increase its efforts to ensure that every child is guaranteed the right to be registered immediately after birth, the right from birth to acquire a name and a nationality and the right to know and be cared for by their parents as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.