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The original article, 연봉 3000만원 받던 20대女 "미혼모 되고…" 하소연, was published in Joonang Daily in November 18, 2011 and translated by Gahyel Lee, proofread by Scott Hur, KUMSN volunteers.
“My annual salary was 30 thousand dollars, but it is no longer mine after becoming unwed mother”
A controversial report was published by the Korea Development Institute insisting that embracing out-of-wedlock childbearing is the one of the solutions to solve the problem of low birth rate.
Ms. Minhee Yoon, 29, currently lives with her 26 month old child in an apartment with a monthly rent of about $200. Before her child was born, she worked as a full-time secretary. However, under the label of unwed mother, it has become too difficult to find a decent job to support both her child and herself. Ms. Yoon works as a part time English translator, but because it’s an inconsistent and unstable job, she always feels uneasy and anxious. “Before I had my child, I was earning an average salary of around $30,000 annually. Now it has become almost impossible to find a job as I am always asked about my marital status. It’s a big worry when I have to reveal that I never married but have only a baby”, she said.
Moreover, she is often asked about the father of her child by others around her without much consideration. She feels uncomfortable whenever she is asked these unwelcomed questions. She said, “If people understood the diversity of families, they wouldn’t ask these personal questions with such disregard.”
As Ms. Yoon discussed the lack of recognition on family diversity, Dr. Young-Chul Kim, a researcher at KDI, had a related opinion on the low-birth rate problem that Korea is facing. On November 16th, he released an article titled, “The Relationship of Increased Numbers of Unwed Parents and the Situation of an Extremely Low Birth Rate.” According to this article, he suggests that the negative views on cohabitation before marriage and unwed parents should be changed in order to help increase the birth rate, which can be interpreted as extremely provocative suggestion from the KDI, a national research institute.
l The red line shows the average birth rate of Korea from 1970 to 2008.
According to Dr. Kim’s report, only 1.23 children are given birth to for each woman (the range of women giving birth is between the ages of 15-49) in Korea is the lowest in the world. Many Asian countries including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan also struggle with the issue of a very low birth rate. The strong influence of Confucianism in Korea and other Asian countries can be attributed as an obstacle to increasing the birth rate because it is believed that people should marry to give birth to a baby.
However, we can see different cases in European countries. With women becoming more educated and entering the work force, the age of marriage has been delayed for women in both Europe and Asia, but unlike Asia, the birth rates for European women has not decreased, which is the result of changing trends on the views of co-habitation. Among European adults (aged between 25-45), only half of them live as husbands and wives. Among the rest half, half of them live alone and the other half live together without getting married. According to the OECD’s report, the average rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing among OECD member countries was only 11% during the 1980’s, but it grew to over 35% by 2008. Especially it was dramatically increased in Western and Northern European countries growing to 40-60%.
When addressing KDI’s report, Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network executive direction Hee-Jung Kwon said, “We need to ensure that single parents receive legitimate “citizenship”. In France, couples, even though they are not married, are legally protected if they are in need of support of for example housing and so on. However, in Korea, if women have babies without getting married, 96% of them are quitting and lose their jobs, which directly infringes on the rights of working. These women need to be protected by laws that bolster the equality of sexes on issues related to labor.”
Dr. Hyun-Ah Yang, a professor at Seoul National University Law School, said, “We need to focus on and consider the issue of human rights more than the low-birth rate problem when it comes to the issue of out-of-wedlock childbearing. We should shift our acceptance of the culture of unwed parents and cohabitation. In fact, family law is only applied under the condition of marriage; so unwed parents are unable to be rightfully guaranteed rights regarding issues like inheritance and so on.
With that said, Mr. Bong-Ho Son, the president of Sharing Korea and a chair professor of Kosin University, argues, “We shouldn’t carelessly ignore the wisdom that marriage is a relationship which can compensate our weak points as human beings. I think recognizing births outside of marriage and co-habitation is an easy-way-out solution. Instead we need to consider how to raise children in a normal way.”
Reporter Seo, Kyung Ho and Ryu, Jung Hwa