Pesticide ban cuts South Korea's high suicide rate - a bit

Mon Sep 30, 2013 3:13am EDT
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By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) - Jang Chang-yoon was drunk and weepy one rainy night, troubled by debts from his divorce. On a dark impulse, the South Korean waiter bought a bottle of pesticide to end it all with a few toxic swigs.

At the last minute, he changed his mind when his young daughter grabbed his arm and begged him: "Daddy, don't die."

Unlike Jang, many people do not pull back from the brink in South Korea, which has had the highest suicide rate in the developed world for nine straight years, often drinking pesticide as their way out.

But a decade after Jang's brush with death, a ban on fatal pesticides is credited with cutting the number of suicides by 11 percent last year, the first drop in six years. The government restricted production of Gramoxone, a herbicide linked to suicides, in 2011 and outlawed its sale and storage last year.

"The number of suicides by poisoning including Gramoxone fell by 477, which accounts for about 27 percent of the total decrease in the number of people committing suicide," Lee Jae-won, an official at Statistics Korea, said last week after the government released the latest figures.

Pesticide was the method of choice for almost a quarter of the South Koreans who killed themselves between 2006 and 2010, according to a government report to parliament.

In the highly competitive society of Asia's fourth-largest economy, experts say people who end up alone battling pressure for good school grades or from financial burdens have little in the way of a safety net.

Despite the improvement in the suicide rate, more than 14,000 South Koreans killed themselves last year. Elderly people living in rural areas are a particularly high-risk group.   Continued...

A man walks past a statue of a person comforting another on the Mapo Bridge, one of 25 bridges over the Han River, in central Seoul September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won