중앙데일리

Fertility rate boosted by immigrant women in rural South Jeolla county

‘Clinics started to close when the fertility rates began to fall.’

Sept 07,2009
Oh Seung-kyun (far right in front row), head of Yeonggwang General Hospital in Yeonggwang County, South Jeolla, and four immigrants with their babies pose for a group photo at the hospital. By Jang Jeong-pil
YEONGGWANG, South Jeolla - While the rest of the country is experiencing one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, a different story can be observed in Korea’s rural areas where an influx of immigrants from North and Southeast Asia is helping to keep rates at healthier levels.

In fact, almost half of the newborn babies at Yeonggwang county hospital in South Jeolla are from international marriages.

Around 40 percent of the 10 to 15 babies born every month at this hospital each month come from Vietnamese, Mongolian, Philippine or Chinese mothers.

“Only five percent of all women delivering babies in the county were immigrants in 2003, but the number is growing steadily,” said Cho Jae-ki, an official at the hospital.

In 2000, the number of women immigrants in the county was 65 but that number was up to 220 by the end of last year.

Posters hanging in the hospital giving advice about pregnancy are written in a number of languages, reflecting the more cosmopolitan demographics.

Kim Sung-mi, 53, a maternity nurse at the hospital, has helped over 100 immigrants have babies in the past two years. She said she can even remember the names of all the women.

She helped Zantanjang, 27, a pregnant Vietnamese woman who has been in Korea for four years, give birth to a boy on Aug. 14. Zantanjang, married to Kim Sang-deuk, 38, gave birth to her first child the two years ago at the same hospital, and some of her friends, also from Vietnam, had given birth here, she said.

“It is so admirable to see [female immigrants] giving birth in another country at an early age and getting used a life in Korea,” Kim said.

Statistics suggest that this county is doing better than the rest of the country in fertility rate.

Last year 452 babies were born in the county. Although this is admittedly a massive decrease since 1995, when 943 babies were born, last year’s number helped Yeonggwang rank in the top 13 cities, counties and districts nationwide in terms of fertility rate.

And whereas the national fertility rate was 1.19 in 2008, it was 1.54 for Yeonggwang County.

Jeon Jeong-suk, 49, head nurse at Yeonggwang hospital, said 20 years ago she was a lot busier when the fertility rate was higher.

“There used to be three other clinics in addition to this hospital in the county that operated 24 hours a day to cater to demand. Around 60 babies were born every month in each clinic back then,” said Jeon. “But clinics started to close when the population and fertility rate in the county began to fall. Now, Yeonggwang hospital only has one delivery room running without a break.”

Doctors and nurses at the hospital say that they need to deliver at least 30 babies a month in the obstetrics department for it to run independently. They’re only getting half that number right now.

“If it wasn’t for our hospital, pregnant women, including woman immigrants, might have to drive about 40 minutes to reach other hospitals in big cities like either Gwangju or Jeonju in North Jeolla,” said Kim. “The hospital would have been already closed if we did not have a spirit of service for county residents.”



By Hong Hye-jin, Lee Min-yong [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]




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