[FORUM]Granny is the ultimate safety netA movie that touched our hearts last year was “The Way Home,” in which a grandmother lives with her city-born grandson in a remote mountain village.
The movie showed that although the gap between the grandmother and the grandson seemed as wide as the one between Kentucky Fried Chicken and boiled chicken, “the clash of civilizations” between them meant nothing in the face of the endless love of the grandmother; she was tied to her grandson as if she were welded to him.
I recalled this movie not because of the warm-hearted love it portrayed, but because of their “ill-fated” meeting. Leading a poverty-stricken life, the boy’s mother raised him by herself. But when she found it hard to support him, she pondered where to leave him for a while and decided to visit her hometown.
Dreaming of a prosperous life in the city, she had run away from home, and since then never visited her home town again. Luckily, when she visited her birthplace, her old mother still lived in her old home, so she could leave the boy in her mother’s care. In the end, when she earned some money, the mother took the boy to her house and his grandmother said good-bye to him.
If it were not for the old grandmother, what would have happened to the boy? It’s not difficult to imagine. The boy did not just exist only in the movie; at this moment, many children in the city are also being sent to the countryside.
The number is so great that a strange phenomenon is occurring: Although working hands are short in rural areas because young people are leaving for the cities, the number of classrooms is increasing in rural elementary schools. This is because people are leaving their children with their elderly parents in their home towns when they cannot overcome the difficulties in their lives ― whether because of separation or divorce, accidents that injure them or when raising their children is just seen as too hard.
According to a survey of elementary students in South Jeolla province by Park Nam-gi, a professor at the Gwangju National University of Education, the number of students who live with a single parent or guardian other than their parents has increased; at one school, 69 students out of the 76 enrolled there are in that category. Just over 9 percent of urban children fall into that category; the number rises to just over a quarter in smaller cities and to over a third in remote villages. As you go deeper into rural areas the number rises and children in the early elementary grades predominate.
The situation of pre-school children is not much different. A research report that surveyed child-care services in the farming areas of North Gyeongsang province said a quarter of children in child care centers are being raised by grandparents in the most remote parts of the province.
Mr. Park says that children from divorced families in farming villages are left almost completely alone by their parents. Although most grandmothers cannot work, they have to support their grandchildren by themselves.
That reality is heartless. Children from statistically ordinary families ― registered under parents who do not receive government welfare payments ― but whose parents are in fact divorced cannot receive free lunches from local school boards. When children from broken homes live with grandparents, they cannot get any support unless their parents receive a government minimum income allowance.
Schools, because of tight budgets, usually have a policy of subsidizing the special educational needs of only one child per family; so even if grandparents are raising several children, they do not receive the necessary support.
Government spending on child care in rural areas, which amounted to about 8 percent of total spending on child care nationwide in June 2002, does not include free care for those above the government poverty line.
Although such families are still low-income, the law says they have to pay more than 100,000 won ($85) per month for child care.
Grandmothers fill the empty places in a very loose safety net in our society. The generation of grandmothers with unswerving affection for their bloodlines are the last shelter for contemporary people who are selfish and uncaring.
Grandmothers play an immensely large role in comforting children with broken hearts who have to live apart from their parents. No more burden should be added to these grandmothers.
Our society should draw up measures to support grandmothers in remote villages who raise their grandchildren so that their burdens may not bend their backs any more, and so that their grandchildren’s hearts will not be hurt any more because of unequal opportunities for education.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Hong Eun-hee