Granny Prostitutes Expose The Ugly Truth About Poor Old People In South Korea
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
When we think about South Korea, the first thing that may come to our mind is the celebrated K-pop culture. Sadly, while its teens are being sold the K-pop stardom dream, the country's elderly people are suffering in poverty.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report in 2015 revealed that nearly half of the nation's elderly live in poverty.
South Korea is one of the countries in the world with the fastest ageing populations, and this is rather worrying as it is still lagging behind other developed countries in terms of pension and welfare systems.
It is a also growing concern since the suicide rate among South Koreans who are aged 65 and older have increased at a distressing rate in the last decade.
What's rather shocking is that the harsh reality has forced some of these poor elderly women into prostitution.
Imagine this: A woman in her 70s is lurking around the streets soliciting customers and offering them sexual service for money.
A recent exclusive documentary by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) tells the story of Madam Park (not her real name), one of the granny prostitutes in South Korea.
As part of the CNA's investigative programme Get Rea!'s subject, the team found Madam Park at central Jongo district, Seoul in broad daylight.
"You came to play? To meet someone? The room fee is USD10 (RM44). The fee for the woman is USD30 (RM132)," the 78-year-old said when approached by the CNA team.
Gone are the days when elderly women like Madam Park can be at home, enjoying their retirement days. They now have to spend their finals days as senior prostitutes just to make ends meet.
It was revealed that Madam Park spends at least six hours every single day to wait for customers just so that she could afford to get arthritis medicine that costs USD250 (RM1107) a month.
"In order to survive, I just close my eyes and get it over with," she told CNA in Korean.
"In one day, if there is good luck, we meet three to four men and receive about 100,000 won (RM380)."
She has spent the last few decades struggling to survive ever since her husband gambled away the family home when she was in her late 20s
After they lost everything, her husband left her alone despite knowing that she was suffering from severe neuralgia (a painful nerve condition).
Madam Park single-handedly raised her four children with the little money she got from working as a kitchen helper.
However, she could not afford to give them education and none of them went to school. Today, she has been abandoned by her own children who don't even have enough money to support her.
According to CNA, she currently lives with her relatives in a small house and they have barely enough to survive.
She turned to prostitution a few years ago when her knees gave way
Due to her bad knees, she cannot do most jobs. She then resorted to standing six hours a day, finding for clients.
"On the way to the hotel, customers realise that I cannot even walk properly. They are curious to know how a grandmother who cannot walk can do this service," she said.
It was reported that Madam Park has been caught and fined several times by the police since prostitution is illegal but she has continued to do this despite being ashamed because there was no other choice.
"I'm more worried about what people will say when they find out that I am an elderly prostitute than about being caught."
"It is embarrassing. I am embarrassed because I am old."
Madam Park's heartbreaking story sheds light on this growing phenomenon, where elderly prostitutes known as 'Bacchus Ladies' go around Seoul soliciting for sex
She told CNA that she is the second oldest sex worker in the street, the oldest being an 82-year-old grandmother. She also revealed that none of the 'Bacchus Laddies' are younger than 50, and all of them have grandchildren.
According to Professor Lee Ho-Sun from the Korea Soongsil Cyber University in Seoul, who has been spending years studying this group of elderly women, there were about 300 to 400 'Bacchus Ladies' in 2013 to 2014 in the Jongno neighbourhood alone.
It was said that their children do not earn enough to support their parents, thus leaving them behind to fend for themselves.
"I cannot tell when they (Bacchus Ladies) started but most of them were neglected during the currency crisis in 1997. Families could not really support their parents as before. So, the senior citizens became homeless and… since they do not have much skills, all they could do was become a prostitute," she was quoted as saying by CNA.
"Children are not in the position to take care of their parents. The elderly problem in South Korea is very shameful. Unless the young adult’s problems are solved, we cannot solve the elderly's problems," she added.