| Single Mothers Face Discrimination|
By Kim Rahn
Having a child is a blessing, but in Korea a baby born to an unmarried woman often invites discrimination for both mother and child as many people consider having children outside marriage to be unacceptable.
The child of an unmarried parent also suffers from problems related to his or her legal status.
But as attitudes toward sex change, the number of single women having babies has been increasing.
However, government support for these women remains inadequate and society often treats them as second-class citizens, forcing many to give up their babies for adoption.
There are no exact statistics on the number of single mothers, as most hide the fact they have a child. The Ministry of Health and Welfare only has records for those entering welfare centers.
In 2000 the number of women giving birth to babies in these centers was 1,506. The figure rose to 1,801 in 2001, 1,890 in 2002, and 2,246 in 2003.
``Most single mothers are 17-23 years old and many are under 20. They are ignorant about sex, and they only realize they are pregnant well into their pregnancy when it is too late to abort the child,'' said Kang Young-sook, chief consultant at the Eastern Social Welfare Society, a help center for single mothers.
There are 11 centers for single mothers nationwide that provide consultation and education about sex as well as delivery facilities and medical checkups.
``Women eight to nine months pregnant enter the centers, give birth to their babies and rest. As many have run away from home, we also provide shelter and vocational education so they can develop skills to make money,'' Kang said.
In 2003 the government began to financially aid these centers and the children born to single women. But this aid has not been enough to solve the economic difficulties face by these mothers.
Those centers are often involved in adoption programs as well, as almost all single mothers decide to give up their babies due to unfavorable treatment from society.
According to the ministry's statistics, last year 3,507 or 90 percent of a total of 3,899 adoptees were children of single mothers.
``They cannot afford to raise a child financially. Above all, however, the biggest obstacle in raising a child as a single mother is society's attitude,'' Kang emphasized.
Many single mothers often face rejection even from their parents and families, as becoming pregnant as a single woman has traditionally been regarded shameful.
In addition, marriage later may be difficult as society considers it important for both parents to be biologically related to any children.
Faced with the economic difficulties, some single mothers reportedly resort to prostitution or theft.
``Even though they decide to raise their babies rather than give them up for adoption, it is hard for them to stick to their decision and cope with all the difficulties,'' Kang said.
Kang Young-sil, general director of Aeranwon, another center for single mothers, said the public should accept single mothers as part of society.
``Fortunately, society is beginning to accept single mothers who raise children alone. However, many people still criticize the morals of single mothers who give up their babies for adoption without understanding the difficult circumstances which force them to do that,'' Kang said.
``But as television soap operas and documentaries featuring single mothers become more frequent, public sentiment is slowly changing. Someday people will not hold biased views against single women with children,'' she added.