Overcoming low birthrates is key
Concerns about Korea’s low birthrate have been around for some time. The Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs said Korea’s total fertility rate has hovered below 1.3 per woman for 12 years from 2001. The total fertility rate refers to the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime. Korea is the only country among OECD members that maintains such a low fertility rate. The government has pumped in as much as 42 trillion won ($39.17 billion) in various measures designed to promote pregnancies for five years from 2006. But the number stubbornly fails to pick up.
Still, children born outside of wedlock have to struggle against a variety of discriminations, and sometimes extreme poverty, their entire lives. A single mother raising a child often cannot finish her own education or continue to work. Child support for a single parent is just 70,000 won a month, a pittance, and that ends when the child turns 12. Single mothers often end up giving up their children for survival’s sake.
In 2006 France scrapped laws discriminating between births from married and unmarried couples. At the time, the number of children being raised by cohabiting couples accounted for half of the underage population. Regardless of his or her legal status, anyone raising a child in France became entitled to various benefits and holiday breaks. As a result, France’s fertility rate bottomed out at 1.65 per woman in 1993 and rebounded to 1.99 in 2010, the highest among OECD members.
The Australian government goes further by helping out unmarried parents secure jobs, day care and education. Day care centers are provided at nearby schools. Free buses take the child and unmarried parents to schools. Some schools even send helpers to assist in the families’ homes. Thanks to such support, the fertility rate in Australia has been on the rise, climbing up to 1.89 in 2010 from 1.76 in 2000.
To prevent the extreme choice of abandoning children, the government not only has to beef up support but must also boost education on equality of the sexes in terms of parental duties. Our society often recognizes single mothers, but not single fathers. Korean men easily walk away from paternal duties. A child should not be raised alone. The father of a child must live up to his parental responsibility.
Society must break the deep-seated prejudice against out-of-wedlock children. Tarja Halonen, who served as Finland’s first female president from 2000-12, was a daughter of a single mother and raised a daughter without ever marrying. Finnish people thought her liberal family background could interfere with governance. About the time she retired, however, her approval rating was as high as 80 percent.
Michelle Bachelet, president-elect of Chile, who previously served as the president in 2006-10, is also a single parent after a divorce. She fought hard to break social prejudices and won victory in the traditionally Catholic country.
No one wants to be a single parent. But it should not be a misfortune or a tragedy. It is just a different family type. We must offer more understanding and support.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is the president of the Korea Unwed Mothers and Families Association.
By Mok Kyung-hwa