S. Korea to criminalise suicide pacts

A funeral service for suicide victim Kim Jong-Hyun last month: South Korea plans steps to reduce the number of suicides

South Korea is to make organising a suicide pact a criminal offence, officials said Tuesday, as the government seeks to reduce one of the world's highest rates of self-killing.

The suicide rate in Asia's fourth-largest economy has increased sharply since 2000 to 25.6 a year per 100,000 people, twice the average for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.

Prominent suicides regularly make headlines -- K-pop singer Kim Jong-Hyun killed himself last month -- but most victims are elderly in a country where social safety nets are weak.

The criminalisation of suicide pacts was among a series of measures approved by the cabinet Tuesday. TV dramas and web cartoons glorifying suicides will also be discouraged, and suicide prevention education will be required for all soldiers.

Seoul aims to lower the suicide rate to 17 per 100,000 by 2022.

The government said more than 90 percent of those who killed themselves sent warning signals in advance and suicides could largely be prevented through people paying attention.

Examinations for depression will be included in mandatory annual health checkups for all South Koreans from their 40s to their 70s.