South Koreans face lonely deaths as Confucian traditions fade

By Reuters Staff
January 21, 2013

(Choi Gyeong-ja, who lives alone, watches TV in her apartment in Seocho-gu, adjacent to the posh Gangnam suburb, in Seoul January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won)

When South Korean widow Yoon Sook-hee, 62, died after a bout of pneumonia in mid-January, she joined a growing number of old people in this Asian country who die alone and was cremated only thanks to the charity of people who never knew her.

Once a country where filial duty and a strong Confucian tradition saw parents revered, modern day South Korea, with a population of 50 million, has grown economically richer, but family ties have fragmented. Nowadays 1.2 million elderly South Koreans, just over 20 percent of the elderly population, live – and increasingly die – alone.

Yoon’s former husband, whom she divorced 40 years ago, relinquished responsibility after being contacted by the hospital and told of her death. Her only son was unreachable as he had long broken off all contact with his parents.

“There are many elderly people who are incredibly depressed because they don’t have a place to put their bodies after they die,” said Kang Bong-hee, representative of a federation of funeral directors that manages funerals free of charge for those who are unable to afford their own.

“They collect what little money they have and they come and ask us what to do (with their bodies) after they die.”

Read the full story by Christine Kim here.
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A factor in the high rate of suicide?

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