Total Articles 16
By Boon Young HAN
Searching for a reasonable solution to an issue which in essence is a practical one, we might find inspiration from Danish society in order to rethink and reevaluate the normative, moralizing stigmas surrounding the issue of children in one-parent families, as well as the concept of parental responsibility outside marriage.
In the Danish context, the father’s identity must under any circumstances be determined. In the case of a child born out of wedlock, the two parents may chose to raise the child together—in which case they are obliged to report to the authorities a so-called “Declaration of Care and Responsibility.” Another option is the so-called “Acknowledgement of Paternity” whereby the father acknowledges his identity as the child’s father. Should a man dispute his paternity, the authorities will demand a DNA test; if no information has been provided within two weeks after the birth of the child, the authorities are legally obliged to initiate an investigation to resolve the issue.
The importance attached to the identification of paternity has crucial implications. For example, it means that the father is obliged by law to provide financial support for his child; it means that the child and the child’s father possess the legal right to inherit from each other; the child may take his or her father’s family name; it also means that the father in principle possesses the right to see the child on a regular basis, and furthermore may request shared custody of the child. All these measures contribute to a contingent relationship and bonding between with the child and both of his/her parents - a relationship independent from the parents’ mutual relationship.
It is the role of the social authorities to ensure that all parties adhere to these regulations; they act as neutral, practical mediators. For example, in case the father should fail to pay the monthly child support—the social authorities will be obliged to take action. In this concrete example, the social authorities will lay out money to the mother-child family, while handling the matter with the father meanwhile. As such, there will be no direct negotiations between the mother and the father.
The ethos of such a system enables the child-rearing parent, mother or father, to rely on a guaranteed monthly income. This creates a stable and secure nurturing environment for the child, while eliminating the uncertainty and sheer hassle with which many one-parent families would otherwise be troubled.
The child’s basic needs and welfare must be given priority in our society. The parental responsibility to provide these conditions does not disappear upon divorce—nor does it vanish simply because a marriage contract was never written. Monthly child support is to be paid until the child reaches the age of 18 years old, or 24 if he or she is taking an education. Among other financial support to the child-carrying or rearing parent may be birth support as well as a living stipend to the mother two months prior to birth and one month after.
Whether these concrete initiatives are sufficient to support a one-parent family is debatable, but the fundamental idea underlying the system calls attention to both parents responsibility to care for and support their children.
Such a system might initially appear somewhat distant from the contemporary discourse of Korean social welfare politics. However, since Korea has—along with for example Denmark—signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children with a pledge to ensure what is in the best interest of the child, the ethos of this system might provide a good starting point of a process by which we clarify and rethink how we handle this promise to our nation’s children in the best possible way.