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South Korea teenagers bullied to death

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu July 26, 2012
  • A South Korean family is reeling from their son's suicide after he was bullied
  • The 13-year-old was beaten, tied with electrical wire and burned with lighters
  • School bullying in South Korea is causing alarm at the highest levels of government
  • About one teenager a day commits suicide in South Korea

Daegu, South Korea (CNN) -- Seung-min's room has not changed in seven months. Even the bed is exactly as he made it, just hours before taking his own life. The 13-year-old was bullied at school, and he committed suicide by jumping out of his home's seventh floor window.

His mother, Lim Jee-young, reads his suicide note as she has countless times since his death. In the note he describes being beaten and robbed by boys in his class, burned with lighters and having electrical wire tied around his neck as a leash. At the end of the letter he says: "I love you mum and dad, please don't be sad I'm gone, I'll wait for you."

Lim had no idea her son was being bullied. "The bullies began to come to our house before we got home and beat him," she says. "It got to the extent they were using a wooden stick and boxing gloves. But he didn't tell us any of this."

Lim and her husband were called by the police the day he died last December. She recalls the moment she arrived home and saw a body outside her apartment block covered in a white cloth.

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"I pulled back the cloth and saw my son," she says. "I put my arms around him and felt he was still warm. I said he's still alive, and I called for a doctor, but they told me he is already dead. When I looked up I saw the open window." As she says this, Lim looks over at the window her son jumped from, reliving the horror.

The boys who bullied her son have since been prosecuted and sent to a juvenile correction center, but Lim -- herself a teacher -- says the school is also at fault. "The school wants to cover it up. Just five months before my son was killed, a girl in the same grade committed suicide because of bullying. But nothing was done, so it happened again."

The boy's school declined to comment for this story to CNN but has since replaced its principal.

School violence in South Korea is causing alarm at the highest levels of government.

"While the former generation overlooked it, school violence has become an important social issue," President Lee Myung-bak said in his opening of parliament earlier this month "This will not only influence the victims but also teenagers and society as a whole."

Teen says bullies beat him, sues New York schools

The government announced a round of new measures to counter bullying in February, including forced suspensions of students found to be involved in school violence. They also lowered the age students can face criminal penalties to 12 from 14.

One of the main reasons for bullying in South Korea is intense competition between classmates and pressure to do well at school, experts say.

"At school, students don't see their peers as friends but as competition and believe they need to beat them to get ahead," says Joo Mi Bae, a clinical psychologist. "Students who are good in their studies can immerse themselves in that, those who are not might try to bully or control someone else."

Government figures show the incidents of school violence are starting to fall, but there is still a high number of teenagers between the ages of 10 and 19 taking their own lives -- 353 in 2010, or almost one youth suicide every day, according to the South Korea National Statistics Office.

Schools are being encouraged to hold more team sports, rather than just celebrating individual success. Many schools also now have counseling services or so-called WEE classes. WEE stands for "We, Education, Emotion and is an attempt by the government to give those who need help someone to talk to.

Cho Hyun-jun, 17, used the counseling service to get advice for his friend who is being bullied. "Bullying victims have a hard time," he says, "because they feel there is no one they can ask for help, so a place like this is really important."

Teens charged in alleged bullying of student who later committed suicide

CNN's K.J. Kwon contributed to this story

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