Supreme Court Convicts Child Support Advocate

Gu Bon-chang has named and shamed those who skipped out on alimony.

Supreme Court Convicts Child Support Advocate

Image: Bad Fathers website. "It's a crime not to pay child support." Credit: Bad Fathers.

On January 4, the Supreme Court 대법원 confirmed the criminal conviction of Gu Bon-chang 구본창, an activist who exposed the identities of parents who refused to pay child support on his website, Bad Fathers. Although the sentence was light (a suspended fine of KRW 1m (USD 7.6k), the Supreme Court found that Gu’s activism amounted to defamatory vigilantism.

The 61-year-old Gu began his work in the Philippines, where he emigrated in 2012 for early retirement after a successful career in the private tutoring industry. After meeting numerous Filipina women who had children with Korean men who ran off, he started a non-profit organization in 2014 to help them sue the deadbeat fathers for child support. Gu soon expanded his work to include Koreans collecting child support.

According to the Ministry of Gender Equality 여성가족부, as of 2021, 80.7% of divorced single parents do not receive any alimony. Even when courts order parents to pay child support, only 42.4% actually pay. Until July 2021, when a new law was passed, South Korea was the only OECD country not to criminalize failure to pay alimony. Even so, Gu says the new law - which requires a lengthy litigation process before any criminal penalty is applied - still falls short.

Gu took to the internet, naming and shaming more than 2.6k individuals, of whom approximately 1.2k subsequently began making alimony payments. (The name of his website notwithstanding, Gu says about 30% of the alimony-skippers on his site are women.) Less remorseful parents have responded with threats on Gu’s life or criminal defamation complaints. It was the latter that ultimately succeeded against Gu, resulting in a conviction  that he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. 

Despite the light penalty, Gu is miffed about the criminal conviction: “The case was about weighing the right of a child to live against the reputation of the parent who refuses to pay to support them. … There are more than a million children suffering from a lack of child support. The Supreme Court ruling doesn’t consider their rights.”

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