[EDITORIALS]Change the Children's Names

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[EDITORIALS]Change the Children's Names

Children are crying. the tears they cried after their parents' divorces or after the death of their fathers did not end even when they acquired new fathers. The story in this newspaper Monday concerning children who are not legally allowed to take their stepfathers' surnames presents us with a serious problem in connection with today's changed families. Remarried women are said to beg their children's teachers to call the class roll using only first names to hide the fact that their surname is different from that of their new father's. These mothers will do anything, such as avoiding bank accounts in their children's names, to conceal the name problem; but it is impossible to keep the matter from becoming playground common knowledge.

Legally, children of remarried women are not recognized as family members of the new father - only co-habitants of his household. So the children cannot benefit from medical and other benefits supported by the new father. Remarried families are not only psychologically handicapped, but also economically disadvantaged.

Despite the plight of these children, a bill to allow children adopted by new fathers use his family name is lost in the Assembly. After a year of gestation, a provision among revisions to Korea's civil law that would allow children under the age of 7 to use their new father's name was passed by the Legislation and Judiciary Committee in December 1999. But the bill, which also included a repeal of the ban on marriage between persons with the same surname, died at the end of the 15th National Assembly. Lawmakers did not wish to lose the votes of either women or Confucianists.

Confucianists cherish our traditional family culture, centered around bloodlines as a homogeneous people, and they are not totally wrong. But the reality is that marriages do not last these days. Last year alone, 130,040 couples divorced by agreement and 43,000 couples filed for divorce. The number of people dying at a young age, such as victims of cancer or accidents, is also increasing. Out of about 270,000 women who remarried during the last fiver years, 60 to 70 percent are estimated to have had children from their previous marriages. The number of children secretly suffering is not just a handful.

Young children are powerless to affect their parents' divorce and remarriage. They can only accept what happened. But the children are those who suffer most from such events. It is irresponsible for the older generation to procrastinate in enacting laws that reflect changes in our society because they are swayed by ideological interests.

The National Assembly must restart its discussion on this portion of the bill. The provisions banning marriage between people who share the same surname and family origin and provisions on the head of the family system, where agreement is not yet to be seen, can be discussed later. The Assembly can review first the bill that allows children of remarried mothers who hold custody and parental rights to use their stepfathers' family names. If it appears that the bill will take a long time to work through the Assembly's mechanisms, we should save the children by setting up a temporary special law. We have already legislated three special case laws to legalize in effect the marriages of couples with the same surname and family origin who together as married couples.

Laws on children in divorced families around the world are changing toward methods of concentrating on the welfare of the children. We should not let innocent children cry because of social customs and systems.
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