The Korea Herald


Bipartisan bill eyed to toughen penalty for infant abandonment

By Kim Arin

Published : July 14, 2023 - 18:00

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A bill to increase the penalty for the criminal offense of abandoning an infant passed a preliminary review of the National Assembly’s legislation committee on Thursday with bipartisan support, following revelations on a series of deaths of abandoned infants that fanned public outrage.

The criminal code currently mitigates the penalty for abandoning an infant or an infant dying as a consequence of abandonment in cases where there is a reasonable cause to believe the offender -- more specifically the mother or her partner -- is unable to raise the infant.

While the maximum penalty for murder typically extends to a life sentence or capital punishment, deaths of infants have been punishable by only up to 10 years of prison.

Revisions to the criminal code sought by the bipartisan Assembly effort will punish infant death from abandonment just as harshly as any other murder.

If the bill succeeds in passing the Assembly, it would mark the first revisions to sections of the criminal code concerning offenses against infants since it was first enacted in 1953.

Bills toughening the penalty for infant abandonment had been proposed in previous Assembly sessions, but never passed.

Last month, a woman in her 30s was sent to prosecutors for abandoning her two infants to death and hiding their bodies in a freezer for several years.

According to the police, the woman is accused of killing a girl and a boy right after giving birth to them in 2018 and 2019, respectively, and keeping their bodies at her home in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

A recent Board of Audit and Inspection report found that at least 2,236 children born between 2015 and 2022 in medical institutions were not registered with the government. In response, the Assembly on June 30 passed a bill requiring medical workers to register newborns even if their parents do not, to prevent them from going unregistered.

The ruling People Power Party in addition is looking to pass a related bill allowing women to give birth anonymously and still access medical and social services, in a move to reduce the number of out-of-hospital births.