South Korea Teens Run Away From Home, Turn To Prostitution To Escape Variety Of Pressures: Report

11/09/2012 10:51 am ET | Updated Nov 14, 2012

UPDATE: Nov. 14 -- The original version of an Al Jazeera story cited in this post has been removed from its site and updated. The news organization cites a problem with statistics, as well as an overemphasis on the role that academics play in teens' decisions to run away from home, as its reasons for revising its piece. The Huffington Post has updated this article to reflect the new information.

Overworked and stressed South Korean teenagers are running away from home in increasing numbers. According to a report released by the municipal government in late September, about 200,000 youths run away from home each year, Al Jazeera reports. In addition, a survey of 175 female teen runaways "found half had been led into the sex industry," according to the report.

Al Jazeera reporter Jennifer Chang spent weeks talking to runaway girls in the country of 49 million, and many said they ran away to be with friends and avoid studying, but turned to sex work when they ran out of money for food.

Runaways leave home for a variety of reasons. As Al Jazeera reports, a survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family shows that "51.3 percent of runaways questioned in 2011 left home because of a 'conflict with parents.'" In addition, 18.5 percent cited school and studying as factors for leaving home, while 13.3 percent cited "pressure on academic performance."

South Korean high schools have earned a reputation for being some of the best -- and the toughest -- in the world. In 2009, they came in fourth in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development education rankings, losing only to the smaller regions of Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong, The Economist reports.

In preparation for the university entrance exam, high school students study long hours, seven days a week, the magazine reports.

Thursday marked the day for the College Scholastic Ability Test this year, which meant life in the city came to a halt for the estimated 660,000 student taking the exam. According to China Daily, early-morning planes were grounded, military exercises were suspended and the morning rush hour was rescheduled to give students the best possible testing conditions.

Still, according to The Korean Times, the stress of the test, among other educational issues, can take a toll. In a report by Statistics Korea, 8.8 percent of young people said they had suicidal thoughts, with 53.4 percent citing excessive education-related competition as the reason.

Tragically, in 2010, suicide was the number one cause of death among young people, with 13 out of 100,000 15- to 24-year-olds taking their own lives, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, the country's sex industry remains illegal but widespread, the Associated Press reports.

The sex trade also generates a large amount of money annually. In 2004, prostitution accounted for 4.1 percent of the nation's GDP, according to Macleans. In 2010, that number decreased to about 1.6 percent of GDP ($14 billion annually), which is still equivalent to half the revenue generated by the nation's agriculture industry.

The U.S. Embassy to South Korea affirms that the number of teenagers exploited by the Korean sex trade is growing. The Internet is helping to streamline this process: more than 95 percent of commercial sexual exploitation of children in South Korea is arranged over the Internet, according to their report.

According to Al Jazeera, at least a dozen prostitution websites operate online, all of which are hard to police. The Examiner reports that sites specifically target teenagers, using phrases like "give this wealthy big brother some" or "if you give this daddy some, I'll pay you."

After setting up meetings, teens can be lured into dangerous situations. For example, sometimes teens are raped for refusing to go along with a john's request, or they're tricked by pimps who set them up, according to Al Jazeera.

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