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The original article, 미혼모 ‘자립’ 절실 was published in Daehan News in Aug 10, 2009 and translated by KUMSN. If you have any question, please contact KUMSN firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial Independence for Unwed Mothers Critical
“Better Understanding Support Policies for Unwed Moms” seminar, gives birth to a place for exchange of opinions of unwed mothers themselves
Ms. Jung, an unwed mother who is raising a 15 month-old baby girl, has been officially under the poverty line for the past four months. Around the time the baby turned one, however, she heard from the regional office notifying that her stipends will be cut off.
According to the law, for children under the age of six, whether to send them day-care or not is for the choice and discretion of the parent. Korea’s current situation, however, is that the regional office requires that the parent send the child to day-care and to work.
According to a consultant at the Korea Research & Consulting Institute on Poverty, once someone is considered under the poverty line, they receive from the government 694,000 KRW per month (based on minimum living cost for a family of two). Of course, included in the minimum living cost are housing, utilities, and other living costs, but what the unwed mothers say is that with other costs unaccounted for, it is difficult to survive on the stipends. Furthermore, because the stipends end once one starts working, an unwed mother has to decide whether to stay under the poverty line or to become a working mom and become financially independent.
“Whether you can receive stipends or not is up to the regional office employee,” said one unwed mother, “they would recommend abortion and even get angry with me during consult. Finding a good social worker depends on your luck.”
“Unless you are a professional, it is better to remain on welfare until your child has graduated from high school,” claimed another unwed mother. She added that if you decide to work, your insurance benefits are lowered from grade 1 to grade 2.
“In order to give hope toward unwed mothers, the government needs to adjust the stipend to 835,763KRW (based on minimum living cost for family of two), and find a way to give them systematic support and guarantee,” stated Sun Hee Baek, professor at Seoul Theological University.
In Korea, it is incredibly difficult for unwed mothers to find a decent job to become financially independent. In the U.S. information regarding family is not required by employers, and it is for them to ask of marital or parental status. Thus, as long is one is a citizen or the legal visa status is verified, there is no problem in getting employed.
In contrast, many Korean employers require their employees to submit marriage certificates and family registers, and this serves as an obstacle to the financial independence of many unwed mothers. In actuality, the situation is that because regular employment is so difficult, unwed mothers are only able to find 3D (difficult, dirty, dangerous) jobs or part-time employment, without insurance benefits.
“Stipends are important, but I would like to work,” said an unwed mother in her twenties, who is due in September and worried that her work experience will be cut off. Ms. Lee, another unwed mother raising a nine year old boy said that “if you’re in the same place however hard you work, then I wouldn’t recommend employment.” For Lee, who attempted to become financially independent without a system to support her, all her efforts turned to waste when she acquired heart ailment due to fatigue.
“The mother’s attitude is what’s most important,” said Lee, and emphasized the importance of growing self-sufficiency through the active use of the rental apartment services for the underprivileged run by SH Corporation and Korea National Housing Corporation, as well as participation in education programs held by the Labor Department, Health and Welfare Department, and Woman Resources Development Center.
Meanwhile, Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network coordinator Hee Jung Kwon commented that “If we don’t speak up, nothing changes. It is important to talk about it.” As she mentioned the necessity of policy change and public hearings, she also expressed her contentment with the seminar, stating that “unwed mothers are able to talk about their own situations through their own voices, only a year after we started our work. I’m happy because there was such huge progress from just one year.”
Reporter Young Mi Baek