Current Situations of Maternity Facilities for Unwed Mothers

Dr. Lee, Mijeong 
(Korean Women's Development Institue Researcher / KUMSN Board of Directors)

Starting from July 2015, overseas adoption agencies will no longer be allowed to operate maternity facilities, in accordance with the Single-Parent Family Support Act enacted in 2011.  According to a review of the bill by a senior staff director of the Gender Equality and Family Committee of the National Assembly, its goal is to prevent and eradicate cases in which unwed mothers who stay in adoption agency-run facilities are advised to choose adoption over raising their child themselves (Kim Kweesoon, 2010). The backdrop against which the measure of forbidding adoption agencies to operate Maternity Facilities came into being is as follows: in 2009, unwed mothers filed a petition under the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s sinmungo system which allows citizens to make complaints directly to authorities. They said that adoption agency-run maternity facilities gave no information about child-rearing options and support organizations and pressured mothers to choose adoption. With this, these women’s situation became known to the world.

In a meeting of the Subcommittee on Bills Deliberations of the National Assembly’s Gender Equality and Family Committee, Assemblywoman Choi, Young-hee explained the decision to propose the bill: “The rate of children being sent abroad for adoption is three times higher at adoption agencies’ facilities for unwed mother than at other facilities, and this bill was created with the hope of stopping that” (National Assembly Secretariat, 2011b).  An opinion put forth at the same meeting of the subcommittee was that“in terms of aggressive measures to strengthen child-rearing support for unwed mothers and minimize adoption, forbidding adoption agencies to operate ‘nursery facilities’ [Maternity Facilities] has some validity”(National Assembly Secretariat, Gender Equality and Family Committee Proceedings, 2011a). Assembly members expressed concern about the facilities’ high adoption rates and their role as a path to foreign adoption: “In cases in which the mother-child welfare facilities [Maternity Facilities] is operated by an agency related to adoption, adoption is three times more likely than at average facilities. Because of this, these facilities are becoming basically a path to sending children abroad, and this is a problem… one wonders whether we can leave it like this, with the government – to put it rudely – exporting children, and still be able to discuss our nation’s dignity”(National Assembly Secretariat, 2011a).

There are 16 Maternity Facilities that will cease operations in 2015 based on the Single-Parent Family Support Act. Though prejudices against unwed mothers are lessening, there are still many unwed pregnant women who wish to escape the prying eyes of family and those around them and give birth in a quiet place, so expanding facilities to replace these 16 is an urgent concern. In securing replacement facilities, it is advisable to consider unwed mothers’preference for large cities and so give priority to Seoul and areas near the capital like Gyeonggi and Incheon. 

The difficulty in creating new Maternity Facilities is finding operating bodies like welfare foundations that can provide the space required, and this is especially difficult in the seoul metropolitan area because of high land prices.  The Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network needs to promote and gain sympathy for this issue in the social welfare community in order to find an operating body that is interested in operating a facility. Another plan is to suggest that the government convert a type of single-parent facility called a “mother-child facilities for temporary stay” into a maternity home. Their functions have some overlap with domestic violence shelters and it is believed that there should be no major problems with their structures providing prenatal and postnatal care to unwed mothers. 

National Assembly Secretariat (2011a). 297th National Assembly (Extraordinary) Session, Gender Equality and Family Committee Proceedings: Subcommittee on Bills Deliberations.  Date: February 21, 2001.  Place: Gender Equality and Family Committee Small Meeting Room

______________________________(2011b). 298th National Assembly (Extraordinary) Session, Gender Equality and Family Committee Proceedings: Subcommittee on Bills Deliberations.  Date: March 3, 2001.  Place: Gender Equality and Family Committee Meeting Room

Kim Kweesoon (2010).“Review Report of Partial Amendments to the Single-Parent Family Support Act: Assemblywoman ChoeYeong-hui’s Representative Proposal (May 11, 2010)” a senior staff director of the Gender Equality and Family Committee