S. Korea: The Suicide Capital of the World

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SEOUL, South Korea -- About one-third of  South Korea's population professes to be Christian. It also rates as second in the world among countries who send missionaries.

Yet, the nation also has the highest suicide rate of any country in the industrialized world. It's a situation that's prompting the church to take action.

Choi Jin-Sil was one of South Korea's most famous actresses. Her popularity could be compared Julia Roberts' popularity with American movie audiences.

However in 2008, this beautiful woman who was adored by her country and was facing a very bright future, hanged herself. Her suicide prompted as many as 700 more people to take their lives in the following months, including her own brother.

Sadly, committing suicide has almost become a trend among the deeply troubled people of South Korea.

The suicide rate in the country is so high that it's now known as the suicide capital of the world. According to the Korean National Police, the number of suicides rose from 12,270 in 2008 to 14,579 in 2009, an almost 20 percent increase.

Sociologists say a highly competitive atmosphere, uncertainty over the future, recession and crumbling traditional social networks are to blame for these awful numbers.

"Korea has many stressful things in their lives," said Korea University Student Eon Ji Kim. "Everyone wants to get effect very quickly. We were raised to be very competitive. As for me it is very hard to overcome competition, fight over everything with everyone.

Maureen Moratalla, a grade school teacher, said she was shocked to hear her young students talk about committing suicide, because of the stress they face.

Grade school students in South Korea stay in class until 8 p.m., while secondary students have additional classes that go as late as 2 a.m.

"My 12-year-old student said, 'Teacher, I want to die, I want to kill myself,'" Moratalla said. "And I said, 'Why?' She said, 'Because my parents just want me to study, study, study. No more time to play.' I was alarmed that at her age, she already understood suicide."

What's even more troubling about this deadly trend is that South Korea boasts of having ten of the largest churches in the world.

The Korean Council of Religious Leaders is trying to address the situation by holding public education programs to combat suicide.

Pastor Peter Kwun of Seong Bok Christian Church counsels people who suffer from depression.

"There are many who say they are Christians, but they have not received a personal relationship with Jesus Christ," Kwun said. "The best way to cure this is to spread the Word of God. They should know they are not alone. Any obstacle in this world can be overcome through Christ even though it is difficult."

Pastors of South Korean churches are also combating suicide by using their pulpits to preach sermons on the preciousness of life and that only God can take a life.

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Lucille Talusan

Lucille Talusan

CBN News Asia Correspondent

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