By Park Chung-a Korea Times
In a 1948 Italian movie ``The Bicycle Thief,’’ Antonio, a middle-aged breadwinner ends up becoming a bicycle thief as a way to overcome his desperate situation arising from economic hardship.
Now there is an increasing number of such ``bicycle thieves’’ whose crimes are linked to trying to improving their desperate lot in the country.
Last week, a 42-year-old man identified by his last name Kang, was caught by police while trying to steal three bicycles near Changhanpyong subway station in Seoul.
Kang said that he stole the worn-out bicycles in order to buy ingredients to make stew for his daughter and son who are elementary school students.
``I was just so desperate to feed my children. With the money exchanged with the bicycles I thought I could cook something for my children,’’ Kang told the police.
However, the bicycles that he stole would not have fetched even 10,000 won a piece had they been sold in a junk shop.
A former laborer Kang was hit by a car in 2000 which led him to be hospitalized for five years. During his hospitalization, his wife left home and he was left with 50 million won in household debt.
With only 700,000 won of basic monthly allowance provided by the government and the small income that he was getting by gathering and selling scrap metals, it proved too much of a burden for him to rear the two children all by himself.
``My children need to eat but I just can’t do anything for them as I just can’t afford even 1,000 won,’’ said Kang.
A 35-year-old man, identified by his last name Kim, was hit by a car 11 years ago, which left him handicapped. Since the accident, his wife left and he has been living with her daughter. The government’s 700,000 won monthly allowance is all he gets.
``The fact that I cannot give my daughter any nutritious food and cannot take her out for picnics always hangs on my mind,’’ said Kim.
A middle-aged woman in her 50s was caught last week stealing grocery products in a market in order to feed her husband who is struggling with cancer.
Although the country is in an era with a per capita GDP of $20,000, the gap between the rich and the poor is continuing to widen, leading to a rise in such crimes.
The number of crimes done out of desperation has increased by more than 9,000 cases compared to 2002, according to the National Statistical Office.
Especially, the number of crimes committed by those who are divorced or have lost partners like Kang, has risen rapidly.
One-parent families which account for 10 percent of total households in the country, earn about 700,000 won on a monthly basis and their average household debt is about 20 million won, according to the office.