Naturalization for having babies?
On Feb. 13, a mother in her 20s walked into the Han River holding her 3-year-old son. It was an attempted murder-suicide. But the river was nearly frozen, and she became so cold that she walked out, leaving the child behind. The child died of hypothermia, and the mother, identified only by her surname Kim, was arrested and detained for murder. The Korean-Chinese family came to Korea three years ago.
In 2013, Kim and her husband, also a Chinese national with ethnic Korean background, came to Korea with an H-2 working visa. The son was born in December that year. They raised the child while working as day laborers. Kim often could not work because the child needed to be taken care of, and so the family struggled financially. They had no one to ask for help.
The son suffered from a fever right after birth, was developmentally delayed and occasionally had seizures. Kim blamed herself for her child’s poor health. On the day of the incident, a letter to her husband was found in her bag: “I am sorry, but I cannot leave without my child, as I said before.”
The tragedy reminded me of a controversial remark made by Kim Moo-sung, leader of the ruling Saenuri Party. At the seventh meeting of the party’s Special Committee on Low Birth on Jan. 29, Kim mentioned Germany’s acceptance of four million immigrants from Turkey. He said, “Korea has a great way to minimize culture shock. We can bring in ethnic Koreans from China.” He proposed that Chinese nationals of Korean descent could raise our plunging birth rate.
His remark was met with revulsion. Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung criticized Kim, saying, “The Korean-Chinese are not machines for giving birth.” The National Women’s Committee of the opposition Minjoo Party of Korea pointed out that “Kim’s comment is disparaging to the Korean-Chinese people and Korean citizens, and that shows his wrong view on women.”
Migrant workers come to Korea with dreams of a better life. Just like Kim, many of them are outside the social security network. Protection and care for them are systematically lacking. Rev. Kim Hae-seong, who established a support center for migrant women, said that migrant workers, including ethnic Korean-Chinese nationals, are excluded from basic social welfare benefits like medical insurance.
How would the Korean-Chinese people, who are treated as “aliens” by Korean society, feel when the leader of the ruling party says they need to be naturalized to have children for Korea just because they have the same ethnic background? It is unclear if the mother who killed her child in the river knew what Kim Moo-sung had said. But if she had, she would likely want to say, “Please make this country a place where people like us are also protected.”
The author is a national news reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 16, Page 33
by PECK SOO-JIN