South Korea’s police look into 193 cases of ‘ghost children,’ 12 confirmed dead

The unregistered baby issue came to light after a slew of infanticide cases involving undocumented babies surfaced last month.

Park Jun-hee

Park Jun-hee

The Korea Herald


Police are seen searching a hillside in Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province, on June 5 to locate the body of a baby boy allegedly murdered and buried by his mother. (Gyeongnam Provincial Police)

July 5, 2023

SEOUL – The Korean National Police Agency’s National Office of Investigation said Tuesday that they are investigating 193 cases of what are being referred to as “ghost children,” babies whose births were never registered with local authorities, as part of the government’s latest efforts to discover unregistered children nationwide.

Police said that they had received a total of 209 reports of unregistered babies as of Tuesday. The whereabouts of 20 nameless babies have been identified. Nine of the 20 are alive and have been found to be adequately cared for, resulting in their cases being dismissed, and seven were without any foul play, according to police. Of the 209 total cases, 12 unregistered babies were found to be dead so far.

Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police are currently looking into five of these 12 suspicious deaths, while the other seven cases have been closed as they were cleared of suspicions, the police explained. Police added that they are speeding up the investigation to locate the other 177 nameless newborns.

Gyeonggi Nambu Police said on the same day that it has received 28 additional reports of unregistered babies and would further look into the cases, while the Gyeonggi Bukbu Provincial Police has launched a probe into seven unregistered baby cases.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency has also teamed up with the Seoul Metropolitan Government and each district office to look into undocumented baby cases. As of Tuesday, the SMPA said it had confirmed 38 unregistered babies, adding that it would thoroughly investigate cases of abandonment, abuse and neglect.

The unregistered baby issue came to light after a slew of infanticide cases involving undocumented babies surfaced last month.

Late last month, two unregistered babies were found dead inside a refrigerator at a residence in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. The mother was arrested for double infanticide and later referred to prosecution on charges of murder and concealing a corpse.

While the Suwon case is still under probe, another unregistered baby boy born in September last year was found dead and buried in Geoje, South Gyeongsang Province, in the same period. A woman in her 20s was also arrested for letting her newborn starve to death.

In another case, a woman in her 20s residing in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, was booked by the police on charges of handing over her newborn baby to an unidentified person she had met via social media immediately after giving birth in December 2021.

Busan Metropolitan Police said Tuesday that it is investigating a woman for allegedly abandoning her baby in the hills around her house after giving birth in February 2015. However, the woman will not be subject to punishment as the seven-year statute of limitations for the crime of body abandonment expired last year.

Meanwhile, a June report released by the Board of Audit and Inspection found that at least 2,236 newborn babies born in medical institutions were unregistered between 2015 and 2022.

Currently, only parents are obliged to register their child’s birth to the government within a month after birth.

But recently, the National Assembly passed a revision to the Act on Registration of Family Relations requiring workers at medical institutions to report newborns to local administrations within 14 days of birth to prevent them from going unregistered. The revision will take effect one year after promulgation.

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