“KUMFA (Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association) is an organization that was starting by and for unwed mothers themselves. It started as a Naver Cafe and then expanded to an offline monthly meeting where moms can participate in educational lectures, exchange information, etc. In addition, KUMFA holds camps for each major holiday in Korea, in order to provide family environments for moms and children during holiday seasons. KUMFA also provides educational, advocacy, and counseling support programs for unwed mothers.
KUMFA’s vision is a society where unwed mothers can raise their children without discrimination, and our mission is to become a society where the right to respect unwed mothers’ choices and their right to pursue happiness should be preserved.
KUMFA has also worked with TRACK, ASK, and KoRoot (adoptee advocacy groups) to help pass the revisions to the Special Adoption Law in 2011, which will help bring Korea up to standards of the Hague Convention on the Rights of the Child. The link between international adoption and unwed mothers in Korea is clear – currently, 90% of the over 1,000 babies that are sent from Korea each year now are those of unwed mothers in 2019 – a tragic indication of the difficulties that unwed mothers in Korea face.
Finally, in the beginning of 2011, KUMFA opened HEATER, a shelter for unwed mothers to raise their children. In 2018, the 2nd Heater opened, allowing more unwed pregnant women and unwed mothers to stay in need of residential space and emergency assistance. Each year it houses and feeds up to 30 mothers and their children. Mothers and their children stay at HEATER for two months or if necessary, more. It is a unique place in that, unlike other facilities in Korea, HEATER accepts mothers who are older and/or have children. Some of the children need medical attention.”
The Reality of Unwed Mothers in Korea
In 2009, when the Korean Unwed Mothers Families Association was founded, about 1,000 children were adopted overseas, and 97 per cent were from unwed mothers. And in 2019, 100% of overseas adoptees from Korea were children of unwed mothers. This statics shows just how difficult it is for unwed mothers to raise their children in Korea.
South Korea is one of the world’s leading OECD countries, but people’s perception of women remains in the old days. Society morally condemns A woman who gave birth to a child without marriage. In particular, society judge and criticize unwed mothers for being sexually promiscuous, and even their families don’t protect unwed mother. During pregnancy, families force them to have an abortion, and there is no way but to leave their homes only to save their children, and when they enter unwed mothers’ facilities, they are continually pressured or forced to give up their babies for adoption. Under this situation, unwed mothers who chose to raise their children rather than abortion and adoption came together to create a better society for themselves so that they were firmly resolved to raise their children by helping one another since neither their families nor the country was helpful to them.
The perception of unwed mothers has slowly progressed for the last decade, even though many concerns and criticism caused it. However, according to a recent survey of unwed mothers from October 2017 to May 18, 93 per cent of unwed mothers were still forced to abort or adopt after conception and childbirth. As of 2017, the number of children adopted overseas has decreased to 400, but most of them are still from unwed mothers. Without support from their families, they are destined to fall into poverty because they cannot get any help related to pregnancy and childbirth, and few companies hire unwed mothers when they know their status through background checks. That is why when unwed mothers decide to raise their children, they become poorer and less confident and are more likely to have lower self-esteem as they go into hiding.
There is a lack of financial support from the government, too. In Korea, 200,000 won (180 USD) a month is given to a single parent if the monthly income is less than 1.55 million (1400USD). Considering the average Korean household monthly income is hovering around 4 million won (3640USD), based on a survey conducted by the National Statistical Office and Bank of Korea in 2017, it is unfortunate to say that the governmental financial support does not practically benefit single-parent families at all. Unwed mothers, those who receive no proper help during pregnancy or childbirth and fear social abuse, go to extreme ways of abandoning or killing their children in some cases. In short, despite the fast-growing society, Korean unwed mothers are in a dead zone, resulting from the lack of governmental support, unnecessary bureaucratic barriers, and deep-rooted prejudices.
Birth certificates or family certificates are often used for public submission in many different social settings. In Korean society, unwed mothers’ children are labelled as extra-marital children on the birth registry. When unwed mothers register their children’s birth, they should tick the box’ extra-marital children’ on the birth report form. This has no legal disadvantage against them as well as their children. Nevertheless, after their paper is seen by others, either in schools or workplaces, they face obscure and unjustifiable disadvantages in reality.