SEOUL: Summer vacation is approaching with fears of hunger, not joyful expectation, for hundreds of thousands of children in this country. This is because they will not be going to school, so they will not be served lunch.
It is shameful for a nation known as the world’s 11th largest economy, and an OECD member, to have as many as 300,000 children who need school lunch programmes. Among these primary and secondary school children from needy households, the government will provide only 35,000 of the most underprivileged class with meal coupons during the vacation.
It still does not necessarily mean that even these children will all have their lunch at neighbourhood eateries, as they are instructed, because many of these kids will choose to starve rather than feel humiliated.
Worse still, the remaining 265,000 children will probably starve. They are most likely to miss not only warm meals but also warm hearts, as statistics say that financial problems, divorce and disease most often break families as well as the tender hearts of children.
Who said it is neither because there is not enough food nor because there are too many people to feed that people starve? Indeed, it is time to remember the proven theory that hunger can be solved through redistributing food to the hungry. This is so true as 10 trillion won worth of food is thrown away in Korea each year.
There are about 1.1 million needy children across the country, according to the National Institute of Health and Welfare. The figure has rapidly increased in recent years, from 490,000 in 1996 and 728,000 in 2000.
The financial crisis of 1997-98 led many youngsters to experience abrupt declines in their family fortunes as their parents lost jobs and got divorced.
The government has announced a package of relief measures for needy children. It comprises childcare subsidies and free pre-school education for low-income and single-parent families, as well as increasing the price of meal coupons for starving children to 2,500 won from 2,000 won, beginning in 2008.
Though this is meagre in the amount and scope of its assistance, the nation has just taken a small but useful step in a long voyage towards a welfare society.
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