South Korea's first lady sent money Thursday 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 Thursday.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 or the poor. Editorials also blamed a male-dominated social structure that often leads to discrimination against girls and women.
"The sad story touched the man in the street," wrote the Korea Times.
Police said the eldest of the four girls, Soon-mi, told authorities the children made a suicide pact to ease their parent's 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.
Opposition politician Kim Dae-jung visited the girls' parents at the hospital. "I am grief-stricken. I feel a great burden as a politician and I will focus on ways to promote the livelilhood of alienated people," he said.
Kim Jong-pil, head of the New Democratic Republican Party attributed the suicide attempt to the faults of politicians "who have failed to hammer out appropriate steps for a balanced income distribution."
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.
The Korea Times quoted a composition written by Soon-mi that said:
"On Christmas Eve, they rang the bell - the helping neighbor campaign. I searched my pocket and found a 500 won coin (worth 74 cents). I was supposed to buy school things with this money. But I put it into the charity pot, hoping that the money would be used for helping the needy."