중앙데일리

The new system recognizes women’s rights and non-traditional families.

The old system, hojuje, was very patriarchal, and children could never take their mother’s last name.

Jan 29,2008
Shin Hyun-lim, the author of “Single Mom’s Story,” enjoys raising her daughter on her own. [JoongAng Ilbo]
The new year began with a new family registry system taking effect in South Korea.
The Constitutional Court ruled three years ago that the old male-dominated system called hojuje was unconstitutional.
The replacement is an individual identification system.
The Supreme Court announced last June that the new system would begin in January 2008.
Why was hojuje unconstitutional?
Hojuje is very patriarchal, which means it is dominated by the male head of the family.
Korean women keep their father’s last name even after marriage. When a married couple had children under hojuje, the children took their father’s last name.
The old system listed births, adoptions, marriages and divorces of all family members under the father.
As in a patriarchy, the father was the family head. After marriage, a woman became, in effect, invisible.
In the past, it was customary for a married couple to live with the husband’s parents, and men had more custodial rights than women.
A woman was usually forced to devote her life to her husband and children. Each family member also held strict roles as defined by Confucianism.
Women were registered under a male for their entire life. When a daughter was born, she was registered under her father. The registration only changed when she got married. From that point, she was registered under her husband.
The Constitutional Court evaluated the system in June 2005. It ruled that hojuje was a violation of the Constitution.
Under the individual identification system, each family member has the right to his or her own registry.
This registry lists the names of a person’s parents, spouse and children.
Children can have either their mother or father’s last name. When parents divorce, children can change their last name as well.
However, siblings must have the same last name.
The individual identification system stipulates different procedures for divorce or remarriage. In these cases, children can change their names through the courts as many times as they like.
In addition, the new system allows each family to legally register an adopted child by filing a petition in the Family Court before the child turns 15.
The court requires that adoptive parents receive consent from their new child’s birth parents.
The new system comes on the heels of Korea’s rapid industrialization since 1960.
Industrialization has had a powerful impact on Korean families.
Families in large metropolitan areas like Seoul or Busan have grown smaller. The traditional nuclear family ― a family with a mother, father and children ― is no longer the only option.
What’s more, the number of one-person households has increased.
The reasons include a rising divorce rate, a breakdown in the nuclear family and a tendency for young adults to wait longer before they get married, according to a report released by the Korea National Statistical Office.
The number of one-person households was nearly 3.2 million in 2005. That accounts for 20 percent of the total 15.9 million households.
Adults who get married wait longer to have children, too. The number of two-person households hit 3.5 million in 2005, the same study reported. This accounts for 22.2 percent of families.
These figures mean that almost half of the households in Korea have two people or less.
The number of single-parent families has grown by 20 percent since 2000.
“As the pursuit of happiness is getting more important to people, a variety of different family types have emerged,” said Hahm In-hee, a professor in the department of sociology at Ewha Womans University.
“The Korean government is expected to enact laws that embrace all single-parent families,” Hahm said.
Consequently, the government and companies are being encouraged to draft new policies, develop more flexible working hours and adopt better welfare systems.
These measures would help single-parent families on lower incomes.
But as rosy as the new family system sounds, some people are unhappy about the abolition of hojuje.
Conservative Korean men think the new system infringes upon men’s rights.
The Korea Clan Leaders Federation is strongly opposed to the new system.
“Abolishing the system has done more than shake the roots of families in this country,” Park Jeong-nam, the secretary general of the group, was quoted in a Jan. 9 article in this paper.
“It’s obliterated our nation’s identity and erased a history that has lasted for thousands of years. With the new system, there could be a situation where a younger brother marries his brother’s widow and his nephew becomes his son,” Park said.
Other experts say that even though different family types exist in Korea, a family is “obviously a group.”
These people anticipate that both smaller families and the “weakened functional level of family” will threaten existence as we know it in Korea.
But for other groups, like the Korea Women’s Association United, the new individual identification system is a welcome change.
The group has campaigned for years against hojuje.
“The abolition of the hojuje system is not only a victory for women’s rights, but also a victory for all human rights,” said Kim Keun-ok, secretary general of the association, in the same article.
It remains to be seen whether the new system of family registration will shake the core of Korean society.
But seeing as the nation is nearly a full month into the new year and still intact, the end of hojuje hardly seems the end of Korea.
Perhaps 10 years from now, 2008 will be regarded as a groundbreaking year for Korean families and society in general.

By Jang Wook JoongAng Ilbo [enational@joongang.co.kr]



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