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Total Articles 54
The original article, [미혼모기획 ①] “아이는 입양, 엄마는 자퇴…미혼모가 전염병 환자?", was published in OhmyNews in Nov. 21, 2010. It was translated by KUMSN and proofread by Corrisa St. Laurent, a volunteer of KUMSN. If you have any question, please contact KUMSN at email@example.com.
[Oh My News] Nov. 21, 2010
“Child Is Adopted, Moms are Dropped Out of School……
Are Unwed Mothers Patients with Infectious Disease?”
[Focus on Unwed Mothers ①] Interview with Representative Kyung-Hwa Mok, of the Korea Unwed Mothers Family Association
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.
▲ One unwed mother is holding her baby
ⓒ Oh My News
We visited the office of the Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network located near Kwanghwamoon
in Seoul in last Dec. 8. In the office on the 19th floor, we can look over the Bukak Mountain and Inwang Mountain out of the window.
“We share this office with the Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network (reference 1). We live off it.”
She looked mild without make-up and with low and calm voice.
- Nice to see you. What is the background of this association?
“I became an unwed mother in 2005. When I had a baby, I found there was no association to talk about the government support policies from the perspective of unwed mothers. The only talk about government support came through maternity homes or social workers there. I thought that unwed mothers should be brought together to present their opinion as a group.”
Ms. Mok said that she reviewed various government policies after deciding to give birth to a baby out of wedlock. She thought that she could raise a child with government supports including child care support, rental house for a single-parent family (reference 2). However, she found out that the reality is totally different from what she thought.
“As of 2005, only those who make less than 800,000 won a month can apply for the support (the standard has changed to around 1.1 million won as of 2010). At that time, I earned about 1 million won and slightly over 900,000 won after tax so I could not benefit from the support. Most people earn more than 800,000 won per month. The policy was far from a reality.”
50,000 won support for single mothers and 100,000 won support for adopted family
She cheered up by thinking that those who cannot work can get benefited by the support. However, she was again disappointed when she reviewed the budget for welfare in 2009.
“I used to compare various policies when I worked for a NGO. I was surprised when I compared the budget for adoption and the budget for single mothers. For a single-parent family, the monthly support amount was 50,000 won but 100,000 won was allocated for families who adopted a child. The support period showed another difference. For single-parent families, support continued until a child reached 8 years old, but families who adopt can get support until a child reached 12 years old.”
In 2010, the support period was extended to 12 years for a single-parent family, but there are still differences in the support amount. When a single mother raises a child, she can get 50,000 won of support if she is in the low-income bracket, but the adopted family can get 100,000 won regardless of its income. It does not meet the international standard for child welfare (reference 3).
Representative Mok said that the social conception that “single mothers who gave birth out of marriage cannot raise a child” makes the government support adoption first rather than single mothers raising their own child. Ms. Mok thinks this is the result of the absence of the voice of unwed mothers.
- When do the activities of the association begin?
"Our activities started in 2008 and went into full swing in 2010. We started our activities under the name of the association in 2010.”
- You said that your activities went into full swing in 2010. You have been very active educating public officers, having interviews with media and for a movie.
"The media has paid attention to our association a lot due to the social issue of “low birth rate” even though we are a newly-established organization. The government or society also paid great attention to us.”
- What is the most important activity in your association?
“It is to register our association as a formal organization. More than 100 people need to sponsor to be a formal organization so we are a temporary organization. Some people raise doubt about trustworthiness or transparency because we are not a group approved by the government. It has an impact on the result of the project, when we submit our proposal, and limits our activities. We cannot make a bankbook under the name of the association so we use the bankbook with an individual name of our members”.
"Unwed mothers drop out of school or are fired. Are they patients with infectious disease?"
▲ Currently, about 10% of households in Korea are single-parent families. However the support for them is lacking. The picture is from the movie <Speed Scandal>, which deals with unwed pregnancy and the single mother.
ⓒ Speed Scandal Speed Scandal
- What is your association’s future plan?
”Through the education of public officials in charge of single mothers in 16 cities and provinces, I saw the importance of education. Therefore, we plan to do education for social workers next year and also for middle and high schools. Because unwed pregnancy and single mothers are mostly discriminated by the school.”
- You mean teachers?
"Yes. Pregnant students can continue their study, but schools often force them to drop out or to quit. They induce students to quit school even though the student wants to continue her study. Single mothers are not patients with infectious disease. However, unwed mothers at school or at work do not many choices but to quit their study or their job”.
Ms. Mok insisted that there is a report regarding the decreased incidence of unwed mothers at schools where single mothers are allowed to go to school, in other countries including the US and Australia. It should not be a matter of hiding. Unwed motherhood should be revealed so that other students can see how difficult it is to be a mother and to be a student at the same time. Then other students will watch out and take greater care of not becoming a single mother.”
"There is a conception that to be an unwed mother is bad. It is not good to be a mother in young age. However, this should be abolished. In this regard, we plan education for adolescences.”
"Korea is a G20 host country and one of the economic powers in the world. Should Korea still need to export children?”
▲ On June 9, 2009 President Lee Myung Bak and his wife talked with multi-cultural families, families with many children, families with adoption, and families where husband and wife both work- at the launch of the “Headquarter of Making Society for Giving Child Birth Friendly”
ⓒ Photo provided by Blue House Lee Myung Bak
Ms. Mok said that while she was working for a NGO related to the disabled, she became pregnant. The baby’s father was a co-worker. Even though the NGO has less prejudice against single mothers compared to other companies, she and her boyfriend were told that one of them should quit the job. Her boyfriend did not take responsibility for the baby and quit the job first. Thanks to him, she could continue to work after giving birth to a child. However, she was not free from discrimination. For example people told her that she should get abortion or accept adoption from female colleagues and members of relevant organizations.
“Many people in our society have negative feelings about single mothers raising a child. They think that single mothers should have an abortion or if she cannot give up the baby, she needs to send her child for adoption.”
Looking back, the history of adoption started when Korea was very poor after the Korean War. At that time there was a wide-spread perception that children should be adopted to a family who is capable of supporting a child well. In the 1980 to 1990s, the adoption industry was expanded to an even larger scale.
In the past, it was understandable. However Korea has become the 12th largest economy among OECD countries and host country for the G20 summit. Do you think that Korea should be ranked from top to top 3 in terms of child export? Do you think that Korea is a country where a mother cannot support her own child on her own?”
"Have you heard about “biological mother syndrome”? A short documentary titled A Going-Out was produced and broadcasted through Education Broadcasting System, which deals with depression of a mother who sent her baby for adoption. A mother goes crazy on her child’s birthday or with crying of other babies. How can other people know that feeling?”
The voice of Ms. Mok began to tremble and her eyes are soaked with tears
”I have met many adoptees who are returning to Korea. I found all of them have something like a big hole inside their hearts. Not all children sent to adoption agencies can find good families. There is an adaptation period for 6 months. If the adoptive family finds they are not happy with the baby, the child is returned to the agency and then sent to child protection facilities, like orphanages when no other families, who want to adopt, appears. This is terrible. A child is not a toy.”
Unwed mothers should have a right to decide on adoption with the knowledge of the reality of adoption. Society should not encourage adoption as the best way for both a mother and a child. This atmosphere is only good for adoption agencies or unwed fathers who do not want to take responsibility, not for unwed mothers and children, as stressed by Ms. Mok.
"Our country should give a prize to unwed mothers since they protect life and raise their babies against social prejudice."
Before my interview with Ms. Mok, I also thought that adoption is the best way for unwed mothers in Korea. All stories about unwed mothers raising a child on TV used to make me feel sorry for them. In those examples, unwed mothers are shown working 24 hours, taking care of their babies, and doing the domestic chores. At times, I cried looking them wearing all the clothes they owned because they were saving money for electricity or eating just noodles due to no money to buy proper food. I just felt so sorry for them while watching TV.
Nowadays, more unwed mothers are choosing child rearing rather than sending their babies for adoption. As the average age for marriage increases and women’s economic activities are getting more popular, when unwed women get pregnant, there are higher possibilities of choosing child rearing than adoption.
”Any of us can be a single mother. An unwed mother is not somebody who is special. We are just one of many female head of household working and raising a child at the same time. I think that we deserve a prize because we protect life and raise a child fighting against social prejudice.”
I recall Nicole, who became a single mother by giving birth to a child without legal marriage. I met her on behalf of European Dream Reporting in France early this year. She was a civil servant. She smiled when she said that her life became better thanks to the support of government and encouragements of her colleagues. Ms. Mok and members of the association said, “We wanted to go to France when we read the article.”
Even though we cannot have such a dramatic change, is there a way to make the situation better? I thought that after reading this, if readers would change the way they look at unwed mothers, it will be a good start of small change. A handful of change from you and me are the strongest driving forces for greater change in the world.
[Reference1] The Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network
The Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network was established by Dr. Richard Boas who realized the difficulties of unwed mothers in Korea. He was a former ophthalmologist and adopted a girl from Korea. When he visited a maternity home, he found that all unwed pregnant women there gave up their children. He was even shocked by the fact that they didn't give up the baby with their own decision but gave up under prejudice and economical and social pressure. He thought that his adopted child was one of them. After that he established the support network wishing to make a better environment where unwed mothers can raise their child on their own.
Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network Homepage : http://www.kumsn.org
[Reference 2] Government Service for Single-parent Family
Child-raising expenses: 50,000 won a month for children under 12 years old in the low-income single-parent family.
Child-care support: 100% of child-care fee for children under the age of 4 is provided to unwed mothers staying in group home, social welfare accommodation. This support is limited only to child rearing unwed mothers who are residing in group homes. Support for those who are residing in community can be different according to one's income.
Permanent rental house: limited to low-income single-parent. If families in the same ranking group compete, the length of years participating in government run program for self-reliance, the length of years living in the region, the number of family members, the number of payment for house application saving are considered and those who ranked higher have a priority to enter into the permanent rental house.
--> Refer to the <2010 Support Project for Single-Parent Family> by the Ministry of Health and Welfare(limited to services mentioned in this article)
[Reference 3] 1993 Hague Conference(HCCH) International Convention on Adoption
The International Convention on Adoption adopted in Hague Conference in 1993, is in charge of organizing policies for family, and child protection as international marriage, adoption and migration are increasing. The organization has been in existence for more than 100 years. Korea is not a member of the Convention. The convention stipulates that the governments should encourage biological parents to raise their own children before considering adoption.
Reported by Young-Sook, Kim (rheemi)
We appreciate Corrisa St. Laurent, a volunteer of KUMSN, for proof reading this article.