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The original article, [미혼모기획 ④] “결혼식 며칠만에 숨진 남편... 나도 미혼모", was published in OhmyNews in Dec. 3, 2010. It was translated by KUMSN and proofread by Sonni Kim, a volunteer of KUMSN. If you have any question, please contact KUMSN at firstname.lastname@example.org.
<Oh My News> Dec. 3, 2010
My husband died after a few days of marriage…
I am also labeled as an unwed mother
[Unwed Mother Focus ④] Agonies of Ms. Jung, a temporary teacher
Do the regrets of a crying, young mother and adoption come to mind when you hear the words “unwed mother”? There are, however, women who chose to be an unwed mother and raise their kids. The “unwed mother” issue has taken a lower priority, behind the low birth rate issue, in the National Assembly or forums. Moreover, practical support for unwed mothers is weak. The main question is ‘what do they really need?’ Let’s meet with them and hear some true stories from these amazing women.
Ms. Jung (Age: 29, fictitious name), who works as a temporary teacher at middle school in Gyeonggi-do is an unwed mother raising a 4-year old son. For most people, the word “unwed mother” is far away from “marriage”. However, there are single mothers who are even labeled “unwed mother” just because their marriage was not registered, even though they were married. This is Ms. Jung’s case.
She had a wedding ceremony in 2006, but her husband died of a heart attack only a few days after they returned home from their honeymoon. As Ms. Jung and her husband’s family were surprised by his sudden death, her husband’s company registered his death to settle the 4 major insurances. She and her husband’s family only learned of the death registration handled by his company after they received a number of documents delivered to their address. Her story was introduced in a TV program in 2008.
After pulling herself together, she tried to withdraw her husband’s remaining salary in his bank account, but she couldn’t because there was no legal proof that she was his wife. She would have nothing if her husband’s family had not withdrawn the money instead of her. The limit under the current law is that even though her husband left some inheritance for her, she has no legal right to claim it.
What did she think when she realized that she was pregnant after her husband’s death? Did she want to give birth to the baby or give the baby to her husband’s family to start a new life?
“That was the concern raised by my husband’s family. However, I believed that I could fill the absence of my husband with a baby. I felt that my baby would be a lucky charm, because I gave birth to the baby!”
What is Needed Most, “A House in Which I Can Live with My Baby”
▲ Currently, the “single-parent family” accounts for about 10% of total households in Korea. However, the support for them is not enough. This picture is from the movie “Seedy Scandal”, which deals with an unwed single mother.
When asked “what is the most needed?”, Ms. Jung’s answer was “a home that can be a shelter for my child and I”. She said that she lived in her sister’s home because it is near her school, but not long ago, she used to stay in a Mother-Child House in Guro. “Mother-Child House” or “Group Home” (refer to the table “reference 1” below) is a social welfare accommodation for single-parent families. Those accommodations are not distributed evenly among regions so there are few in Gangnam, Seocho and the southeastern part of Gyeonggi-do. In addition, the Mother-Child House in Guro where Ms. Jung stayed has many applicants waiting to stay there, so people cannot stay more than 24 months after childbirth. In addition, if a mother, like Ms. Jung, works far away from the house, she had to leave the house due to difficulties in commuting.
The permanent rental apartment for single-parent family is a distant dream for unwed single mothers. (She pointed out that the subscription point calculation structure makes an unwed mother to get a point to move into the permanent rental apartment)-This sentence is confusing, not sure what you are trying to say here. The calculation considers the number of family members and how long they have participated in a government run program called ‘a self-supporting project’. However, most unwed mothers are raising only one child and it is very difficult for them to participate in those programs due to the demands of raising mostly infants and toddlers who require intensive caring.
“Self-supporting project? If I work hard, I am paid from 600,000 won up to 800,000 won. Do you think that I am able to support my family with that money? It may be helpful for the elderly, but not for somebody who is raising a child like me. “
Ms. Jung said that even though the government supports childcare (currently 50,000 won per month) for low-income single-parent family, it is not enough for self-reliance.
Kindergarten Cost is 660,000 Won, “Cannot Live”
“I had to pay 660,000 won for the kindergarten fee on my credit card. The fixed fee is 540,000 won but the total fee is 660,000 including the fee for special activities. I didn’t have a credit card, so I had to use my sisters’ credit card. I had to pay back. Think about it. As a single parent, in order to receive a subsidiary or benefits from the government, a person cannot earn over about 1.1 million won. If you have to spend 660,000 won out of 1.1 million won, do you think that you can live with that amount of money?”
When I said that the kindergarten costs her too much, Ms. Jung responded that there was no alternative. “I didn’t intend to choose an expensive kindergarten. I just chose a private kindergarten near my sister’s house. There is no public kindergarten near my sister’s house. My mother also said that the kindergarten fee was too much, but I had no alternative.”
Ms. Jung also said that frequently her sister looks after her child, as she sometimes works late as she works as a temporary teacher. She added that she feels very sorry for her sister since she is also busy with her life including preparing for her marriage.
“I can stay at my sister’s house for a while for free, but if I rent a house, I should pay a rental fee. Think about it. I cannot do anything. I cannot even feed my child well.”
She earned about 600,000 won a month working as an intern teacher. She said that this time, the contract term is 6 months. She is not sure what will happen after 6 months. Fortunately, the salary for a temporary worker is 1.8 million won.
Lost My Husband, Is That My Fault?
Economic matters are not the only problems that make Ms. Jung’s life difficult. She mentioned that the prejudice and loss of self-confidence as an unwed mother is hard to ignore. “When I had an interview with the school principal, his first question was what my husband’s job was. When I said my husband had passed away, his face became dark. Fortunately, one teacher recommended me so these other factors were not considered when I got the job. However, without her recommendation, I would have difficulties in getting a job even for a 6-month period.”
She asked to me, "Why did he ask me about my husband’s job during an interview? She didn’t wait for me to respond and just kept saying, “I just said that my husband died and they didn’t ask any more details. But if the principal or other teachers know that my marriage was not registered legally, how will they respond? If they know, I will lose my job.”
Her argument makes me remember representative Kyung-Hwa Mok of the Korea Unwed Mothers’ Family Association comment that unwed mothers are discriminated against mostly in middle and high schools. Ms. Jung also acknowledged the conservatism at school. She is preparing for the test to be certified as a regular teacher since it is hard to work as a temporary teacher as she gets older. Others spend a few years concentrating only on the test, but she has to raise her child, earn money and study simultaneously. But again, there is no alternative for to her.
▲ A temporary teacher is a teacher but a non-regular worker, so she is vulnerable at school. ⓒ Kyung-Tae Lee
Ms. Jung also hopes for another very important thing in her life, beyond a stable job and home. She has the hope to have a strong male figure in her child’s life. Ms. Jung said “I don’t have a father or brother. Even though my child has a grandfather on his father’s side, it is hard to meet him frequently.”
Ms. Jung added “all kindergarten teachers are women, so my 4-year old son behaves like girls. I am worried about that”. Ms. Jung can make an effort to show a desirable symbol of women to her son, but she cannot fill the absence of a male figure in her family. “From next year, I cannot go into a female public bath with my son. I wonder if there is a service where good male university students who like children could look after a child like my son. I want this kind of service at the association level,” she said laughing.
Ms. Jung has kept in touch with her husband’s parents to make sure her son has contact with other family members. She wanted her son to feel the love of family members, like his grandfather and grandmother to fill the absence of his father. Even though they love her son, she does not know where she fits in the family since she is not the legal daughter-in-law.
Her husband’s family feels uncomfortable with this situation because there is nothing they can do for her. Her family also feels sorry for the fact that she was technically married but he passed before the legal marriage was official registered. Ms. Jung said “I myself feel awkward about my position as well. In order to feel free from all the absurdities, I would like to be independent as early as possible.”
Ms. Jung’s sister who looks after Ms. Jung’s son called twice. It is time to go. After walking for a while from the restaurant where we met, there was Ms. Jung’s sister and a small boy riding a bike. In the winter evening, the boy in a coat with a hood and mask are waiting for his mother. I hope that Ms. Jung and her son can find a place of their own soon.
[Reference 1] Social welfare Facilities for unwed mothers
There are mihonmo-boho-siseol (maternity home), joonggan-ui-jip (group home), and mojawon (house for mother and children).
mihonmo-boho-siseol (maternity home)
For those who are pregnant or gave birth(less than 6 months)
Protection period: 1 year (extension for another 6 months is possible)
No. of facilities: 32, Capacity: 768 persons
Benefits: free accommodation and food / medical benefit for childbirth / support for self-reliance
(vocational training, personality education, counseling) / other support defined by regional governments)
joonggan-ui-jip (group home)
For those who are unwed mothers with babies under 2 years old
Protection period: 2 years (extension for another 1 year is possible)
No. of facilities: 23, Capacity: 174 persons
Benefits: support for childcare (limited to those subject to single-parent family law) / free accommodation and food / support 100% of childcare by making children under the age of 4 included in legally-defined low-income family (limited to those subject to single mother-child joint living family / support for self-reliance / other support defined by regional governments.
mojawon (house for mother and children)
For those who are low-income, mother-child family with children under the age of 18
Protection period: 3 years (extension for another 2 years is possible)
No. of facilities: 41, Capacity: 1,062 persons
Benefits: support for childcare (limited to those subject to single-parent family law) / support for high school fee/ child teaching after school/ school food fee/ welfare loan support/ support for permanent rental house/ reduction in fee for childcare facility/ other support defined by regional governments.
[Source] <2010 Single-Parent Family Support Project> Ministry of Health & Welfare (2010)
Reporter, Young-sook Kim
We appreciate Sonni Kim, a volunteer of KUMSN, for proof reading this article.