YONGIN, South Korea, Feb. 17 (Yonhap) -- Police have brought murder and child abuse charges against a couple who allegedly assaulted their 10-year-old live-in niece and forcibly immersed her in a bathtub, causing her death, officials said Wednesday.
The Gyeonggi Nambu Police Agency and Yongin Dongbu Police Station said they will refer the couple, both in their 30s, to the prosecution on charges of homicide and physical child abuse.
It is the second fatal child abuse case in two months to rattle South Korea after an adoptive mother in Seoul was indicted on charges of abusing a 16-month-old girl to death. The police initially charged the couple with child abuse resulting in death, but switched to a murder charge after interrogating them.
They were arrested earlier this month after the niece, a daughter of the wife's younger sister whom the couple had been fostering since November, died of secondary shock at a local hospital.
The couple initially told paramedics that she drowned in a bathtub and stopped breathing, but later confessed to the police that they had beaten her on several occasions.
According to police findings, the couple repeatedly hit her with a plastic broom and other objects on the morning of the day of her death on Feb. 8 because she was "ill-behaved."
The same day, the couple also bound the limbs of the 10-year-old and repeatedly plunged her head in a bathtub for about 10 minutes at their home in Yongin, just south of Seoul, until the girl stopped breathing.
Further interrogations found that the couple inflicted at least one more round of such water-torture-style acts last month, along with beatings on some 20 occasions since December last year, one month after the girl started living with the couple.
The police's final choice of the murder charge is based on its judgment that the couple were aware of the possibility of their niece's death at the time of the brutal acts inflicted on her. The police also took into account the primary autopsy result indicating that the external injuries the girl had may have caused hypodermal bleeding and lower blood circulation, resulting in secondary shock and the ultimate death.
"We determined that the couple committed willful negligence, given that a child is prone to (death) if inflicted with such a level of assault or abuse," a police official said as the background of the application of murder charge.
The police, however, decided not to disclose the couple's identities to the public, which became legally available with the filing of the murder charge, citing potential secondary damage, such as the exposure of their family members' identities.
The police said they are also investigating the girl's mother, having booked her on charges of neglecting her child.
The police also plan to scrutinize to what extent the mother was aware of the couple's abuse of her daughter, as well as whether the couple also maltreated their own children.