No. 3 million

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No. 3 million

What can we learn from a country whose population
is one-sixteenth of Korea’s but which is 7.5 times
larger in size? Frankly, I was skeptical as I boarded
a plane to Mongolia on Dec. 2. But when I met with
a Mongolian government official, I was convinced.
“In Mongolia, the population issue is a matter of
national security. The constitution guarantees the
well-being of mothers and children. We handle the
population issue very seriously in laws and policies.”
The Constitution of Mongolia stipulates the
right to financial assistance from the state for giving
birth and guarantees the well-being of families,
mothers and children. Until a
child turns 18, he or she receives
a child subsidy, and pregnant
women and mothers of infants
cannot be fired unless they commit
felonies, such as misappropriation.
When the three millionth
citizen was born earlier this year,
the cries of the baby were broadcast
live nationwide, and the
president gave it the name “Mongoljin” as well as
a house. Thanks to these efforts, Mongolian couples
have an average of 4.5 children. How about Korea?
When the JoongAng Ilbo published my Dec. 16
article on why Korea’s young generation doesn’t get
married or have children, a friend sent me a message.
“This is exactly my case: frequent overtime,
career discontinuity, a sense of guilt for the child and
tens of millions of won in debt.” I wanted to cheer
her up and said, “You can get married and work
together with your husband.”
But she said that when she expressed her desire
to get married, the first question she got was whether
she was quitting her job. Due to the low birthrate
and aging population, the productive labor population
in Korea will decrease to two-thirds and the
growth rate will fall to 1 percent by 2050. The grim
reality is drawing near.
Nevertheless, Koreans don’t seem to realize
the crisis. The liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration
recognized population shrinkage as a national
problem and created a committee directly under
the president’s office. But when the administration
changed, the problem became neglected. The
Lee Myung-bak administration moved the committee
under the Ministry of Health and Welfare,
and President Park Geun-hye reactivated the committee
two years into her term. The biggest crisis
is not realizing we are already in
a crisis.
When Mongolia gained independence
from China in 1921,
the population was only
600,000, and foreign media reported
that Mongolia was disappearing.
But last year, 94
years later, 82,839 babies were
born — a new record — and this
year, the population reached
three million. Erdene Sodnomzundui, Mongolia’s
minister for population development and social
protection, repeatedly said in the interview that
the focus of Mongolia’s development was population
Dr. Park Jong-seo of the Korea Institute for
Health and Social Affairs, who accompanied me on
the trip, said, “The assistance may not be considerably
better than what is offered in Korea, but we can
certainly learn from the will of the president.” The
desperation shared by Mongolians was behind
Mongoljin’s cry that reverberated around the country
earlier this year.

*The author is a national news reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo.

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