[FOUNTAIN]Population policy changes take some timePapua New Guineans had a unique tradition. When a woman gave birth, the husband would have to leave home for a few years. And, during the period of lactation, couples were barred from sexual encounters. The tradition of abstinence was not a manifestation of feminism. Since they did not know proper birth control methods, the Papua New Guineans strictly controlled their sex lives after a birth in an effort to prevent having another child right away.
Westerners arrived in the South Pacific islands in the 19th century and introduced contraception. At first, the natives shunned the idea of condoms, and vasectomy was not an option in the strictly androcentric society. The indigenous people slowly accepted Western contraceptive methods much later.
The Supreme Council for National Reconstruction, a military committee instituted by Park Chung Hee, first adopted population control as a national agenda in November 1961. An advisory committee from the Population Council, an international nonprofit organization based in New York, had suggested that the import ban on contraceptives should be lifted and the country needed to start manufacturing condoms and distributing them at a cheaper price. The government purchased secondhand equipment from Japan and began producing condoms.
In 1962, the Planned Parenthood Federation led a campaign to promote vasectomy, and health insurance plans began to cover the procedure in 1977. But Koreans did not accept the campaign right away, falsely believing that vasectomy would take away sexual stamina. It was in the 1990s that the birthrate actually dropped to the targeted level. Even in the controlled society of North Korea, it took 20 years for citizens to actually practice the birth control plan devised by the government in the 1960s.
Recently, the Korean government has begun encouraging couples to have more children. North Korea reversed its population growth control policy in 1996 by giving extra benefits to the mothers of many children, and banning abortion. The South Korean government is considering covering the procedure to reverse a vasectomy in the health insurance plan. Now the slogan is “Let’s Have One More Kid.” But no prescription will make the birthrate soar overnight. After all, it takes time to change people’s thinking.
by Lee Kyu-youn
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.