Breastfeeding is not a crime

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Breastfeeding is not a crime

The author is an EYE team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Last year, a Korean-Canadian sent me a picture of his daughter breastfeeding her child on a street with one breast exposed. On the street, neither too crowded nor completely remote either, the mother was naturally and proudly nursing the child. It goes without saying that passersby in the background did not give them a second thought.

This scene, which is perhaps natural, is rarely seen in Korean society. This is the reality I faced personally while breastfeeding for one year, last year. My child would only take breast milk and refused formula, so a breast cover was a must when going out with the baby. It was unbearable wearing the cover in the middle of summer when the baby was sweating and using all his energy.

In the end, I had to breastfeed in an uncomfortable position in the car with air conditioning many times. I even visited a cafe in Yeongjongdo Island, Incheon, that was equipped with a pleasant nursing room. It’s an episode that I can’t even mention when other people share their experiences of nursing or pumping in unsanitary public bathrooms.

In other countries, breastfeeding in public places is actively being discussed. In Sydney, Australia, in 2013, mothers protested in front of a cafe that prevented a woman from breastfeeding. In France last year, a woman was assaulted at a post office for breastfeeding her six-month-old son, and mothers posted pictures of themselves breastfeeding on social media and urged others to spread awareness.

Changes are being made, albeit slowly. In May 2017, Australian Senator Larissa Waters made news as she breastfed her two-month-old daughter in the Parliament. That was possible because the law was revised a year before. The European Union (EU), New Zealand, and the U.S. Congress also allow infants to accompany if they require breastfeeding.

How about Korea in 2022? Rep. Yong Hye-in — a member of the Basic Income Party and the third representative in history to give birth during their term — proposed a revision to the National Assembly Act in May 2021 to allow infants under 24 months that need breastfeeding to enter the meeting hall. It received attention briefly, but the bill has been pending at the steering committee for more than a year. “Should breastfeeding in public be more criticized than urinating in public?” “Do not sexualize women’s breasts.” These calls are often branded as “extreme feminist” and “exhibitionist.” This is the shameful state of the country with the lowest total fertility rate of 0.81 as of last year.
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