South Korea’s First Lady today sent money to a grief-stricken family whose four girls took rat poison so their parents would have enough money to send their brother to school.
The girls, aged 6 to 13, were found unconscious Monday. The youngest girl died immediately. Police said the others were in critical condition today.
Korean newspapers gave the story prominent display, and editorials on the children’s plight criticized public policies that some said do too little for the young and the poor. Editorials also blamed a male-dominated social structure that often leads to discrimination against girls and women.
Police said the eldest of the four girls, Yang Soon Mi, told authorities the children made a suicide pact to ease their parents’ financial burden and leave enough money for the education of their 3-year-old brother.
Money for schooling has traditionally been provided first to boys.
The father, Yang Tae Bun, 44, is a factory worker who supports the family on the equivalent of $362 a month, police said.
The story led to an outpouring of sympathy led by First Lady Kim Ok Sook, wife of President Roh Tae Woo. She sent the family condolences and an undisclosed amount of money, officials said.
Seoul newspapers quoted the girls’ teachers as saying they studied hard and were quiet, model students.
A neighborhood shopkeeper said Soon Mi told him she could not afford $5.80 worth of notebooks and pencils for school and asked to pay later.