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By Bae Ji-sook
An American physician is working to support unwed mothers in Korea.
Richard Boas has recently established the ``Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network'' to support tens of thousands of unmarried mothers in the country. From supporting research on the actual lives of these women to meeting policymakers to emphasize the importance of their livelihood, the network is striving to help single mothers raise their children on their own.
There are some 140,000 single mothers here, as of 2005, according to the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs. The number is believed to have since risen.
Boas said that unmarried pregnant women without partners are forced to choose between giving up their children or having difficult lives with them.
``Mothers are stuck in the middle ― whether it will be the best for the baby to find a new family and live a nourished life or stay with the biological mother to fight social prejudice toward single parent families and suffer financial problems,'' he said.
In fact, many of single mothers struggle with poverty. The welfare ministry gives 50,000 won ($33) in monthly subsidies for childcare to single parent families. Those living below the poverty line can receive basic government subsidies, stay with foster families for up to two years and stay at 40 facilities nationwide for up to five years, far from enough to help mothers keep their children. ``The government gives 100,000 won a month for a domestic adoptive family. However, giving out just 50,000 won for unwed mothers surely gives the impression that the government encourages adoption,'' he said.
Cheryl Mitchell, a research professor of the University of Vermont and former policy maker of the respective state government welfare programs, was invited by the network to share some of her state's cases and said the government could establish more centers for mothers to care for their children during the day so they may complete their studies and seek stable work.
Still, she said a fundamental change in society's perception of single mothers should come first.
``To women, being pregnant without a male partner is almost a stigma. The rigid term of family having a father, mother and children is not necessary anymore. We need to break it with the idea of community and others,'' she said.
In the United States, most unmarried mothers keep their babies.
Boas established the network late last year based on his personal experience of being a father of an ethnic Korean adopted daughter.
``When I came here several years ago, it was to learn about the birth country of my adopted daughter. But soon I got to realize that behind our pleasure of having a daughter, there was a Korean mother weeping over giving up her child,'' he said.
``I learned that Koreans call the increasing number of overseas adoption as national shame. Adoption is not a shame, the real shame is that the social atmosphere and infrastructure that lead the mothers to give up living with their children and sending them abroad, though they do not want to,'' he said.
Korea is notorious for a large amount of overseas adoption, with the number of reaching 1,250 last year.