South Korea Struck by Online Suicide Pacts

Nine people in South Korea have committed suicide in three separate incidents within two days. The latest was a 72-year-old man who hanged himself at a construction site in Hoengseong, Kangwon Province, Thursday, police said.

Four women and one man -- in their 20s and 30s -- were found dead Wednesday in Hwaseong, just south of Seoul, after sealing a passenger car with plastics sheets and inhaling toxic fumes from burned coal briquettes.

They left suicide notes saying, "I have no more hope and no more dreams" and "please find my identification card in my back pocket."

Police were investigating their motive but assumed that the man recruited the four women on the Internet to participate in a group suicide.

Earlier in another city east of Seoul, Chuncheon, three men in their 20s were also found dead at a private room-for-rent lodge using the same method and sealing the door and windows with dark masking tape from inside the room they were sharing.

Police assumed that they, too, were driven by group suicide pacts cultivated online.

Such news is common here where the suicide rate is the highest among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development group of developed countries.

An average of 35.1 people killed themselves everyday in 2008, according to the health ministry. That's 24.3 for every 100,000 South Koreans, followed by 21 in Hungary, 19.4 in Japan, 16.7 in Finland and 15.8 in Belgium.

The National Statistics Office reported that the suicides are related to the economic downturn, as well as rapid social change within the family and the community.

Korean society in recent years has been plagued by continuous cases of suicide among celebrities, high-profile politicians and businessmen, teenagers and the elderly. Analysts say the most common cause is depression stemming from social and academic pressures or family troubles.

"There's a huge gap in this country because the speed of materialism spreading is much faster than the speed of cultural maturity that must grow together. It all comes from stress of rapid modernization," said Jeung Taek-Hee, an expert and consultant at Lifeline Korea.

South Korea's Social Problems

Korean parents are having fewer children -- on average one per couple -- and more women are going into the workforce, which leaves the child alone. Although some corporations and government ministries are campaigning for workers to go home by 6 o'clock at least once a month to spend family time, Korean corporate culture still requires employees to participate in work-related dinners and stay late hours.

"Naturally, these busy parents end up spoiling the child who ends up self-centered and incapable of dealing with competition," Jeung said. "But the reality is that this society is very, very competitive."

Along with the miraculous rate of economic growth in the past decades, many South Koreans have become driven by materialism that has been passed on to their kids, Jeung said.

He noted that most of the people who commit suicide, especially the young teenagers, find themselves dangerously distressed by not being able to keep up with others materialistically and eventually become anti-social.

"The easiest place where they can meet friends who share the same pain is online through suicide communities or chat sites," Jeung said.

Once they find each other, they become, "eternal comrades" who "must accompany each other to death," he said.

According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 28.4 percent of young teenagers committed suicide in 2008 because of "disturbed family relations," mostly the result of parental divorce, 19.6 percent from pessimistic depression and 10.1 percent from academic pressure.

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