Monday, September 17, 2012

Non-traditional families on the rise in South Korea

   An interesting article (translation to be precise) from Asiancorrespondent
What I find really amusing though with such articles, is that it's usually demoralized and bad Westerners who are excited if news about Korea show this country is slowly shedding their Confucian skin. There are tons of articles about how women are ineaqually treated, how multiculturalism is crooked, how social/family life is messed up - but in English. I wish half of those articles could be translated into Korean and read by the people there. Maybe then some would finally get that Joseon has already ended some time ago.


Original article in Korean is at this link.

#1. 39-year-old office worker Han Ju-yeol (not his real name) and 35-year-old insurance saleswoman Lee Su-yeong (not her real name) are an “unofficial married couple.” They have lived together for the past four years but have no marriage certificate. The two each have experienced a failed marriage, Mr. Han’s marriage ended over personal differences, and Ms. Lee’s ended over her husband’s unfaithfulness. They do not have a marriage certificate due to their intensely negative experiences, but live as if they were married. The two “had two many wounds from getting divorced… if they healed we could get legally married, but we like the way things are,” they say. The two have a son who has Mr. Han’s family name.

#2. 27-year old Kim Seong-jin (not his real name) and 23-year old Park Jae-hui (not her real name), are a campus couple who had a baby together in March of this year. They lived together for two years since moving to Seoul when they suddenly got pregnant. Ms. Park said that “when the pregnancy test came up positive we thought of getting an abortion… I couldn’t bear the idea.” Their healthy daughter is currently being looked after by Mr. Kim’s parents. Mindful of social prejudices, they said they will get a marriage certificate after obtaining employment.

An increasing number of male-female couples are living without marriage certificates. According to the National Statistical Office last month, the number of children born out of wedlock rose 3.3% last year, or 320 children, to 9,959. That is the highest number since figures began being kept in 1981. Since 2001 there has been an increasing trend, which if it continues will see over 10,000 out-of-wedlock births this year. In 1997 such births comprised 0.6% (4,196) of the total birth rate, which rose 2.1% (9,959) in 2011. Kim  Yeong-cheol, a research leader at the Korea Development Institute, said that “it appears from the statistics that if this trend towards out-of-wedlock births is not interrupted, there will be a large increase in them among cohabitating couples, not just the unmarried, and among de facto marriages… the traditional, conservative institution of marriage is weakening.”

According to the NSO, in 2010 there were 17,359,333 household nationwide, of which 12.1%, or 2,096,651, fell into the “other” category, which excludes all married couples with children and also grandparents raising grandchildren. There were 4,142,165 one-person households, and 479,120 “secret friend” households. Unmarried couples with or without children, cohabiting couples, and those in de facto marriages are classified as either “other”, “single-person”, or “secret friend”. Perspectives on these relationships are changing with little consideration of their legal effects. In 2010 the NSO found that 53.3% of teenagers aged 15 to 24 agreed with the statement “men and women can live together even if they are not married.” In April the internet polling company Dooit Survey published a study in which 2,513 adults were asked “is it good to cohabitate before getting married?” 60% said yes. Lee Mi-Jeong, a research leader at the Korea Women’s Development Institute, said that “with the marriage age increasing and sexual freedom expanding, cohabitation has become natural… with an increasing number of people seeing marriage as a choice and being accepting of individual sexual customs, the number of out-of-wedlock births will continue to increase.”

The NSO has also studied unmarried mothers raising children born out of wedlock. In August the KWDI published a study (미혼모 자녀양육 및 자립지원을 위한 정책과제) according to which the number of single mothers who raise their children went from 7.2% in 1998 to 66.4% in 2009.
With the increasing economic ability of women and an increasing respect for life, the traditional route of oversea adoption is also crumbling, the KWDI found. Byeon Hwa-sun, head of the Family Life Research Institute, said that “in the past marriage and pregnancy were absolutely equated… now, more and more women believe they can raise a child by themselves, without a man.”

Experts say that it is important that these “new families” be able to create a heathy and happy social environment. Although are various systems for them, such as the Single-Parent Family Support Act (한부모가족지원법), the Domestic Relations Act (가족관계법), the Medical Insurance Act (의료보험법), and the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption (입양특례법), there are still benefits denied to couples who are not legally married. Kang Hak-jung, head of the research institute Home 21, said that “we must create a society in which children can be raised healthily… it is a long-term social problem that social benefits are denied to those in de facto marriages, to cohabiting couples, and to homosexual couples.”