A bill guaranteeing the basic rights of unregistered foreign children, most of whom live with illegal immigrant parents here, was not enacted during the parliamentary session last February. There is little likelihood that it will be passed in the extra session that started on April 1, as the main parties are preoccupied with staking out advantageous positions ahead of the nationwide local elections to be held in early June.
It is regretful that the enactment of the bill, which is the result of years of effort by several local civic groups joined with some lawmakers, has been delayed.
Undocumented foreign children here have been left largely excluded from education, health care and other social services. Korea, which signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, has since been repeatedly asked by commissions from the global body to take the necessary steps to comply with the treaty. The country must respond more quickly to such requests.
Any civilized society would be embarrassed to learn that it has denied the basic rights of children, including equal opportunities for education, because their parents are illegal immigrants. No child ought to suffer any type of discrimination in everyday life due to their family background.
A just society is obliged to assume moral responsibility for creating an environment in which all children can grow up to lead a decent and meaningful life. To our regret, Korean society has not treated the children of illegal immigrants here, most of whom are low-skilled workers, fairly and properly.
According to figures from the Justice Ministry, 5,681 children had entered the country with illegal immigrant parents as of the end of 2012. Experts say the total number of unregistered foreign children, including those born here, is estimated to exceed 10,000.
The bill guaranteeing their basic rights should be passed as early as possible. It is our society’s duty to ensure that children are not denied education, health care and other public benefits due to the conditions they were born into.
Some additional measures may be added to the bill. Under a relevant domestic law, being born here does not grant a child Korean nationality if both parents are foreigners.
It may be necessary to consider obliging all births to be registered so that illegal immigrants’ children are given the equivalent of an alien registration number. Those who entered the country with illegal immigrant parents may also be given special residential status after a certain period of stay.
Some are concerned that establishing a system to fully guarantee the rights of these children might lead to a surge in illegal immigration. Certainly, a broader public consensus is needed on immigration and multicultural policies.
But doing away with unjust discrimination against children based on the legal status of their parents is a question of basic human rights. All Koreans need to be reminded that this effort not only concerns humanitarian principles but will also help make society more stable and mature.