S Korea Criticized for Failing to Protect Children’s Rights over Laos Dam Collapse

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South Korea has been criticized for failing to protect children’s rights after a dam collapse in Laos caused dozens of deaths last year. The United Nations has advised the country to “closely look into” its overseas projects for possible violations of such rights.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child said on October 3 that South Korea should consider whether its companies or organizations infringe on the rights of local children if they go abroad for investment or international development cooperation projects, and set up a system to ensure that officials are properly responsible in the event of damage.

The UN statement came after a conference in Geneva last month where South Korea was called out for violating children’s rights with businesses and projects in developing countries. In particular, the participants cited palm oil farms in Indonesia run by South Korean firms as an example.

Some observers also said the collapse of the saddle dam in Laos was another example demonstrating a lack of measures by South Korea to protect and promote children’s rights in overseas projects.

A saddle dam at the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy hydropower project collapsed last year at a site which is a joint venture between South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction and Korea Western Power. The incident killed dozens of residents and displaced thousands of others.

The project was also supported by the Economic Development Cooperation Fund, which is designed to promote economic cooperation between the South and developing countries. The fund is overseen by the government-backed Export-Import Bank of Korea.

Accordingly, the South Korean government was criticized for failing to conduct enough research on the project and a lack of preparation for adequate treatment measures.

“It is essential to require the Export-Import Bank of Korea to reveal information related to overseas projects to enable the substantial assessment and monitoring projects invested by the bank,” said Lee Ha-nee, a director at Korea NGO Council for Overseas Development Cooperation, as quoted by Seoul-based daily Chosun Ilbo.

Chosun Ilbo also quoted lawyer Jeong Shin-young as saying that there is a channel to report the violation of children’s rights by South Korean firms overseas, which is operated by South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, but it is open without any business with needs for further promotion.

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