Teenage Pregnancy and Its Support System in Korea: Transition from “Abortion or Adoption” to “Childbirth and Childrearing”

Teenage Pregnancy and Its Support System in Korea: Transition from “Abortion or Adoption” to “Childbirth and Childrearing”

Naoko Sôma (International Graduate School of Social Sciences, Yokohama National University, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan), Jiyoon Park (Institute of Human Sciences, Toyo University, Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan & The Monitoring Center for Children’s Rights, South Korea), Sun-Hee Baek (Seoul Theological University, Seoul, Korea) and Akemi Morita (Toyo University, Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/ijpphme.2012100102
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The purpose of this paper is to analyze vulnerability of teenage families by focusing on teenage pregnancy and its support system in South Korea, and discuss how they are facing uncertainty and insecurity and which directions in developments of family policy in so-called “family centered welfare state” of Korea. Teenage pregnancy is widely issued in developing and developed countries. Especially in developed countries, the number of teenage mothers has been increasing and their welfare support has been developed. Recent research of teenage pregnancy in developed countries examine that young mothers and fathers tend to have multi-layered problems of welfare, education, and labor-market. In South Korea, which is categorized as “family centered welfare regime”, the number of teenage pregnancy is increasing in the context of very low fertility trend. Most of teenage pregnancy has historically ended with “abortion” or “adoption,” and its issue has had stigma. However, recently the number of teenage mothers who choose their own childcare is increasing. They are facing multi-layered insecurities; insecurities of education (drop out), poverty, labor insecurity, and the insecurities of the development and future of their child. This paper focuses on young family at risk through the lens of teenage pregnancy in “familialism” welfare regime of Korea and considers possible directions in very low fertility society.
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1. Introduction

1.1. Aims of this Research

Viewing the international situation, in Europe and America some time has passed since the increase in teenage single mother households emerged as a social problem. Although not to the extent of Europe or America, East Asia, in particular Japan and Korea are now showing an increase in the birthrate among teenagers. Korea, even more than Japan, sees the rapid decrease in its birthrate as a critical problem, and the problems arising from “teenage pregnancies, childbirth and childrearing,” have been overlooked in the countermeasures dealing with the declining birthrate. The problems of “teenage pregnancies, childbirth and childrearing,” however, are involved further with issues concerning poverty among women and children, the provision of education for women extended to mothers, employment, and child development. Thus, it can be assumed that in the near future it will be increasingly necessary to develop policies to meet them.

Until recently, the major portion of cases in Korea involving pregnancies and births among unmarried mothers have been resolved by either choosing “not to give birth (abortion)” or “delivering the child but not raising it (giving the child up for adoption).” In Korean society, where enthusiasm for education is high, the stigma placed on teenagers who choose to become parents rather than live up to social expectations that assume they ought to be receiving an education is strong, more so than in Japan. Even before the option to “go the full term of pregnancy but not raise the child (choosing adoption)” was available, there was no choice except “not to give birth/unable to give birth (abortion),” and it has been pointed out that the number of teenage abortions is greater than official statistics have indicated.

While the situation in which “not to give birth/unable to give birth (abortion)” and “delivering the child but not raising it (giving the child up for adoption)” were the common choices, in recent years there is an increase in teenage parents who have chosen to “give birth and raise” their own children, leading to claims that a great change is seen in the behaviour of Korean teenagers concerning childbirth and rearing. A question can be raised as to why in recent years Korean teenage parents choosing to “give birth and raise” their own children have increased. In conjunction, one needs to ask what the primary factors in the background of this change are.

To explain the change, it becomes necessary to address the multifaceted aspects of the changes occurring around teenage parents, namely, (1) institutional changes in areas such as welfare policies, (2) change in social consciousness towards what is considered stigma, and (3) the consciousness and social relationships of the teenage parents themselves. The aim of this article is to gain an understanding of the actual conditions of teenage parents through the use of qualitative investigation, and to examine the situation brought about by institutional reforms involving teenage parents, giving special attention to the activities in private organisations that have provided major support, and the characteristics of this change involving teenage parents in recent years.

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