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By Lee Suh-yoon
Four years after surveillance cameras became mandatory at 40,000 daycare centers nationwide, parents say their children are still not protected from possible abuse.
Last week, a woman posted a public petition on the Cheong Wa Dae website, calling for stricter action against daycare centers that fail to provide parents with access to CCTV footage.
According to the petitioner, her 19-month-old child was allegedly abused verbally and physically by caregivers at a daycare center in southern Seoul. Though the child could not speak, he showed signs of trauma, and the mother found out other children at the center also showed similar signs.
The center, however, repeatedly denied the petitioner's request to check surveillance camera footage, first saying the cameras were off due to malfunctioning and later claiming the camera's hard disks were broken.
She reported the center for child abuse but police are making little progress due to the lack of video evidence, according to the petition which had over 3,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
"Surveillance cameras were the only shield for my child who can't speak," the woman pleaded. "If the law aimed at protecting that is so full of holes, where can mothers safely leave their children?"
Similar cases are abundant. In Gwanak-gu Seoul. A mother found bruises on the bodies of her two children on multiple occasions, and reported their daycare center to the district office, May 23. Officials from the office went to the center but staff claimed the CCTV devices were was broken and they had thrown them out.
According to Article 15 of the Child Care Act, daycare centers must store CCTV recordings for at least 60 days. Centers that refuse to let parents view the recording out of safety concerns for their child or failing to properly manage and store CCTV footage for reference can be subject to a 3 million won ($2,540) fine. The penalty climbs to 20 million won or a two-year jail term if there is evidence that the files were intentionally damaged or lost by the center. The latter case, however, is almost impossible to prove, as the petitioner's case shows.
The regulation was set up in 2015 following a case of child abuse at a daycare center in Incheon, although caregivers opposed the measure, citing human rights violations and privacy infringement.
Rather than being charged with child abuse, which could lead to the forcible closure of the center, operators can simply destroy or refuse to submit video evidence, citing technical failures ― allowing them to get away with just the 3 million won fine.
Parents have called for strengthened punishment and standards over CCTV management at daycare centers.
The petitioner demanded daycare center staffers receive the same level of punishment as that handed down in cases of child abuse if they fail to properly manage CCTV or intentionally destroy files. She also claimed parents should be allowed to view recordings immediately whenever they want to.