Families Want Justice For Lost Children

Its been much more challenging for the families of the victims.

ENGLISH | CERITA

Senin, 04 Agus 2014 10:27 WIB

Author

Jason Strother

Families Want Justice For Lost Children

South Korea, Sewol, accident, memorial, Jason Strother

It’s been over three months since the South Korean Sewol ferry capsized, killing 300 passengers onboard. It was a national tragedy that’s sparked government reforms and a lot of soul searching throughout the nation. 

But understandably, its been much more challenging for the families of the victims, almost all of whom were from the same high school.
 
I’m standing inside the temporary memorial that was set up following the April 16th ferry disaster. It’s a giant, air conditioned tent with an enormous alter that’s holding framed pictures of the high school students that died when the ship went down.

Flowers have been laid out in front of them, there are packages of food and I just read a note from one of the kids’ mothers who wrote that she hopes to see him again one day.
 
It’s here that I met 27-year old Kwon Oh-hyun, who’s pointing to the portrait of his younger brother, who’s dressed in his school uniform.
 
Q. What’s your brother’s name?
“Kwon Oh-chun.”
Q. How old was he?
“He was 16 years old.” 
Q. What can you tell me about him?  Were you guys close?
“For about 15 years we shared the same room, even the same bed.  Right after he passed away, it was very difficult for me to sleep in that room, for about a week or so, I ended up sleeping in my car.  I couldn’t bear to go back into that room”
 
The memorial here in Ansan is the center of grieving for the entire country. Its also the place where the families of the victims come to try to find solace. Tents are set up outside that offer various services for these relatives.  Like legal advice.  I asked lawyer Jo Ah-ra what kind of help are the families looking for.
 
“The parents who come here want to know how they can get support from the government, especially for single parents or how to take their childrens’ pictures down off of websites”
 
But Kwon Oh-hyun, who acts as a spokesperson for the Sewol victims’ families, says many of the relatives need more than just legal advice. Following the accident, many quit their jobs.  He says some just stay home and mourn.   The government is helping, but it might not be enough, he says.
 
“The government is giving us some living support and psychological counseling.  But these types of help are limited.  We only get two months of the stipend. And the trauma counseling is only for one year.  Does that mean we re supposed to feel better in a year from now?”
 
Some might not feel closure until what caused the ferry to sink is determined. Kwon says they hope that the answers will be revealed during the court trials that are now underway.
 
South Korean television aired footage of the Sewol’s captain Lee Joon-seok being led handcuffed into court. He and three other crewmembers are charged with homicide by negligence.  If convicted, they could spend the rest of their lives in jail, or even the death penalty.
 
Kwon Oh-hyun says family members have been attending the court sessions. And what they’ve seen isn’t sitting well with them.
 
“Some of the defendants have been falling asleep inside the court.   I think some of us would really like to just beat them up”
 
But despite those emotions, Kwon says he’ll wait until all the evidence is in before making his own judgment.  He says he doubts that the accident can be blamed on just the captain.
 
“It’s difficult to point to a single individual or entity to blame for this disaster.  I feel that the fundamental fault lies with the government system.  The coast guard wasn’t properly trained to handle this emergency. The Chonghaejin Marine Company also didn’t prepare their crew to respond properly to this kind of situation. It was an overall lack of safety standards in this country”
 
But perhaps the most significant evidence against the Sewol’s crew might come from the survivors themselves.  Some have already testified confidentially in court about what they experience when the boat went down.
 
Their experience might be similar to that of 17-year old Kwon Ji-hyuk, who I spoke to shortly after the disaster in April. 
 
“I was on the 4th floor on the boat. There were 60-70 people with me. The water started rising. Since I was in front of the ship, I saw the water coming. When I saw it, I yelled to my friends  “jump!” and I jumped. Around 10 people only jumped. The rest stayed. The water came really fast, the ship sank fast”
 
For him, it’s clear who is to blame.
 
“I’m really angry (at the ferry’s crew), if we would have had the right directions then maybe more of my friends on the fourth floor would have survived.  We had no idea what to do.  All I could do was just jump off the boat”
 
As for Kwon Oh-hyun, who’s younger brother didn’t make it off the Sewol.  he says he and his family are doing the best they can to cope with their loss.
 
“Its not been easy for my family.  Last year our father died and we weren’t even over that when my brother was killed. We have felt absolutely devastated. But now, our lives have been getting back to normal.  My mother is working again and I am doing what I can to work with the families of the other victims. I hope what I am doing helps the investigation into what happened. It was an accident that should have been prevented”
 
Kwon adds, that by doing so, he believes that will help his brother and all his classmates rest in peace.
 

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