People were heartbroken after learning of the recent suicide of a mother and her two daughters who were found dead in their house in Songpa-gu, Seoul. Since then, media outlets have recklessly used words ‘joint suicide’ to describe the tragic story. In response, Save the Children sent an opinion statement to 17 broadcasting companies and news organizations. The statement read “A joint suicide is the most cruel thing that can happen to a child and it is an infringement of children’s rights. Therefore, the act itself doesn’t deserve sympathy.”
Kim Heekyung of the Division of the Child Advocate within Save the Children said “Since the incident, there have been copycat crimes in areas like Dongducheon, Gwangju, and Iksan. Without exception, the media headlined the news. They all went for words such as ‘a joint suicide’ or a phrase like 'committing suicide together.' In an instant, we sent a letter to ask them to stop using the term.”
Save the Children reported that 33 articles were featured with the term ‘a joint suicide’ in the headline between February 27 when the recent suicide case took place and March 5. The term was used to describe an incident where a parent killed his or her child before committing suicide.
More than half of stories entitled ‘Family commits suicide’ involve a parent killing his or her underage kid or a disabled, defenseless grown-up child. In contrast, 'a joint suicide' signifies a case where an individual kills a family member in need of care.
“We can’t prosecute a dead person. However, the case constitutes a criminal offense because the perpetrator committed homicide,” said Park Hyung-min, a researcher at the Korean Institute of Criminology. This indicates a murder-suicide is surely a criminal act for a child victim, although a parent’s death may have been caused by his or her own choice.
A phrase ‘committing suicide together’ makes people feel that children’s life is in the hands of their parents. The underlying sentiment is that children belong to parents and such notion is prevalent in Asia. Former Director Lee Hogyun at the Korea Monitoring Center for Children’s Rights pointed out “The phrase only justifies the fact that parents have control over their offsprings’ life. To make matters worse, the press keeps romanticizing a murder. The recent suicide case emphasized weaknesses in our social safety net. Some people speak in defense of a murderer, citing that parents in question just wanted to prevent their children from having to undergo future pain and suffering all alone.”
Prevailing distrust throughout society explains why murder-suicides among family members are recurring. Many criticize that the phrase ‘committing suicide together’ allows people to focus on personal tragedies, rather than weaknesses in the social safety net.
Park stated “The media is not doing its job. Instead of highlighting some personal heartbreaking stories, it should delve into each case and analyze why such incidents keep happening. We need more than just a sympathy for the family. I wouldn’t say it is a mistake. The press indiscriminately uses such provocative remarks with the intent of drawing readers’ attention.”