This article is published in Sharing Column in the Newsletter of Korea Foundation for Women, April 6, 2010. http://www.womenfund.or.kr/v1/view.asp?b_code=36&sid=4062
This was translated by Lee Jae Wan and proofread by Alexandra Meilach-Gould, volunteers of KUMSN. Please contact KUMSN if you have any questions related to the article.
Women Making Efforts to Protect Maternity, Her Families and Society Turning Their Back
Hee Jung Kwon (Coordinator, Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network)
Are people saying that love is eternal, pregnancy is a blessing, maternity is sacred, and family protects us from this wicked world? The women I have met tell me a totally different story.
“We were dating for 10 years having known each other from the college. We were interested in learning about labor laws and feminism, so we read books and discussed these issues together. After graduating college, I got a job while he was preparing for an exam. We had a dream of being together someday, so we continued dating. Then one day, we found out I was pregnant. We discussed the situation and decided to get an abortion. A few years later I got pregnant again. I told him I would not get another abortion. My boyfriend then told me not to ask him to take responsibility for the child as this was my decision, and he left me.”
Ms. Choi, Sunhee (anonymous) was left alone. Her colleagues were well aware that she was dating her boyfriend for many years with plans to eventually marry. Therefore, she was expecting being pregnant before marriage would not cause many problems at work and proper treatment from her work. However, she was naïve.
As her due date came closer, the company excluded her from an important meeting. The agenda being discussed was whether it was right to give maternity leave to a woman who is not married. “I had had enough of the cold looks from my colleagues and I had wanted to quit my job a million times. After finding out what they discussed, I could not stand it any longer and I quit.”, Ms. Choi said.
Under the Constitution and Labor Law, no one can be discriminated against due to being pregnant. However, almost 100% of unmarried single pregnant women quit their job when their belly starts becoming bigger. After giving up their careers, being separated from their family and being isolated from the community, they fall into poverty over night.
A short time ago, I received a phone call from a woman.
“I.. am not married but I am pregnant. But I heard the government is enforcing the abortion Law. If I delivery my baby, how much compensation can I receive?”
I asked how old she is and she said 30 years old. All I can answer is a woman can get 300,000 won for hospital fees, and 50,000 won for baby supplies. If she gets into a maternity home, she would get a lot of benefits, but she would like to raise the baby where she is now. I wish I could tell her this. If she does not own any property and her income is less than 890,000 won per month then she could get about 700,000 won. She seemed disappointed and hung up the phone in a hurry.
The government announced that they will prevent abortions and build a society in which human life is respected. They secured a budget of 12.1 billion won for supporting unmarried mothers. However, this is only for unwed mothers between the ages of 18 and 24. Among them only those who earn 150% of minimum costs of living, they receive 124, 000 won from government per month.
Almost half of unmarried mothers are teenagers but the other half are women in their late 20’s and 30’s. Regardless of the age difference, the difficulties that unwed mothers are facing are exactly the same. These can include becoming disconnected from one’s own family, facing a stigma from society and living in poverty. Unwed mothers in their late 30’s are not much different from those who give birth to a baby as a teenager. Both mothers face the difficulty of raising an infant or a toddler who needs full day care. They both also face the challenge of finding work outside the home. If women are discouraged or afraid to raise their baby in the face of stigma and poverty and thus choose abortion or adoption, they will now face the blame of being a cruel mother.
Women who become pregnant out of wedlock are standing between the devil and a deep blue sea. I believe that instead of blaming and ignoring them, we should give them warm and sincere support, in order to make their pregnancy healthier and happier. We have to separate this from the national agenda aimed at raising the birth rate. We must do this because it is a basic human right that a mother is allowed to raise her baby however she chooses.