SEOUL, South Korea: Thousands of South Korean educators and school staff gathered in Seoul over the weekend to demand increased legal protection from bullying by parents, an issue that has been escalating in the country's highly competitive school environment.
The demonstrations come in response to the tragic death of a teacher in July, who was found deceased at her elementary school, reportedly due to emotional distress caused by complaints from allegedly abusive parents.
These protesting teachers have been rallying for weeks, highlighting the fact that existing laws make it challenging to maintain control in their classrooms, leaving them vulnerable to accusations of emotional abuse by overbearing parents.
South Korean lawmakers are presently deliberating bills to provide some of the teachers' with requested immunity from child abuse claims. However, experts have raised concerns that these proposed changes could further weaken child protection measures in a country where students are pressured to excel academically.
In South Korea, graduating from prestigious universities is vital for one's career and marriage prospects. Shockingly, data from the Education Ministry and the National Health Insurance Service revealed to liberal opposition lawmaker Kim Woni that over 820 elementary, middle, and high school students died by suicide between 2018 and 2022.
Thousands of teachers and school staff, dressed in black, converged on a street near the National Assembly. They chanted slogans and displayed signs with messages like "Grant teachers immunity from child emotional abuse claims." These protesters revealed that more than 9,000 teachers have been reported for child abuse by parents over the past eight years.
Ahn Ji Hye, a teacher and one of the protest organizers, stated, "I hope that the bills being discussed now (by lawmakers) will be passed as soon as possible to secure teachers' rights to life and empower teachers to provide good education."
Approximately 20,000 people, as estimated by the police, participated in the rally.
Amidst growing discontent among teachers, South Korea's conservative government established a task force earlier in September to explore new education-related laws that would take teachers' opinions into account to safeguard them from child abuse allegations.