The rate of child abuse has sharply increased worldwide, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the media’s role in addressing child abuse cases is crucial, several international and formal organizations have established child abuse reporting guidelines. This study investigated how closely journalists follow reporting guidelines in addressing child abuse cases. Five major Korean presses and 189 articles from January 1, 2018, to January 31, 2021, were selected using the keyword “child abuse.” Each article was analyzed using a guideline framework consisting of 13 items regarding the five principles of the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare and Central Child Protection Agency reporting guidelines.
This study identified a radical growth in media reporting on child abuse cases in South Korea; almost 60% of the articles analyzed came from 2020 and 2021. More than 80% of the articles analyzed did not provide abuse resources, and 70% did not provide factual information. 57.1% of the articles instigated negative stereotypes, and about 30% explicitly mentioned certain family types in the headlines. Nearly 20% of the articles provided excessive details about the method used. Approximately 16% exposed victims’ identities. Some articles (7.9%) also described victims as sharing responsibility for the abuse.
According to the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare (2020), the number of child abuse cases in South Korea has been increasing annually. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of child abuse has increased owing to the heightened stress and social isolation of children and their families (Rosenthal & Thompson, 2020). The number of child abuse cases has increased sharply in South Korea since the beginning of the pandemic. According to the Korean National Policy Agency (2020), the number of child abuse reports in families between February and March 2020 was 1558, up 13.8 % from 2019. Additionally, according to the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare's (2022) analysis of child abuse cases in Korea the total number of reported child abuse cases tallied in 2021 was 53,932, a significant increase of about 27.6 % compared to the previous year.
Of the 37,605 cases judged as child abuse, the age range of 13–15 years accounted for the largest portion of victims with 8693 cases (23.1 %), followed by those aged 10–12 years with 8657 cases (23.0 %), and 7–9 years old with 7219 cases (19.2 %) (Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2022). In terms of family types of child abuse victims, 23,838 cases (63.4 %) occurred in families with biological parents, 4618 cases (12.3 %) in mother-and-child families, 3707 cases (9.9 %) in father-and-child families, and 1980 cases (5.3 %) in remarried families (Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2022). Regarding the relationship between assailants and victims, parents accounted for the highest number of cases, with 31,486 cases (83.7 %), followed by 3609 cases (9.6 %) involving surrogate caregivers, and 1517 cases (4.0 %) involving relatives (Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2022). Among the confirmed reports of child abuse, 45.1% were reported by fathers (16,944 cases), 35.6% by mothers (13,380 cases), and 3.2% by childcare teachers (1221 cases) (Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2022).
This study is meaningful because there is a lack of analysis on child abuse reporting guidelines in South Korea although the coverage of child abuse cases is increasing at an alarming rate. These findings indicate that the current guidelines have not been followed effectively. Our research urges the importance of avoiding detailed, biased, and sensational descriptions and providing factual information and abuse resources to enhance social awareness of child abuse and to prevent and intervene in child abuse cases. We expect our results to arouse attention toward establishing more realistic and effective child abuse reporting guidelines and monitoring systems.