Celebrations during Korea’s family month of May are to recognize single mothers in the country’s first ever Single Mom’s Day.
Unwed mothers and their children are to be celebrated and supported at a conference exploring issues ranging from international adoption to the discrimination these small families often face.
Attendees will celebrate the event on May 11 by sharing enough birthday cakes to feed 1,000 people outside Kyobo bookstore in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun.
The cakes made by Mi n Mi Cake bakery will be given out at the bookstore’s sunken garden at 12 p.m. to wish a collective happy birthday to kids raised by single moms ― who often lack support in Korea.
Children will also be given presents bought through a gift drive for the conference hosted by the Korean Unwed Mothers and Families Association (Miss Mama Mia), the Korean Single Parent Association, Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea and KoRoot.
Miss Mamma Mia member, Jo Su-yung, 41, who requested a toy car for her son through the gift drive, told why she decided on raising her child without a husband on falling pregnant: “Forty is somewhat of an old age, so I decided to have my child. It has been hard, but I don’t regret it one bit and we are living a strong and bright life together.”
The international conference aims to raise awareness about challenges facing single mothers, and to encourage the Korean government to provide more support to help them raise their children rather than feeling the need to resort to adoption.
An unwed mother with her baby taken at a support group facility. (Jeanne Modderman)
TRACK president Jane Jeong Trenka, who has written three books about her own experiences as a Korean adoptee in America, said: “We decided to organize single mom’s day because this year is the 6th year that the government and adoption agencies have organized adoption day to promote domestic adoption.
“Since around 90 percent of Korean children put up for adoption come from single moms, we want to promote family preservation and support for them rather than adoption.”
Kwon Hee-jung, executive director of event sponsor, the Korean Unwed Mothers’ Support Network, which also works to change attitudes toward unwed mothers, agreed: “Our society has not accepted their (unwed mothers’) right to be mothers for a long time and the majority of people naturally think they are supposed to give up their babies for adoption.
“This is against human rights and now it is time to recognize motherhood out of marriage as legitimate as motherhood inside marriage.”
Unlike in many Western countries, Korean single mothers are often aged 25 or older.
Single mother Kim Deuk-won, 33, said: “Education is so important because I believe it is the most efficient way to change prejudices around us.”
The international conference titled, “Redefining Family: Moving from Adoption to Family Preservation” is to be held at the Community Chest of Korea conference room on May 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Speakers will discuss official positions on international adoption as well as hearing first-hand stories from international adoptees and single mothers.
One such mother, Choi Hyung Sook, has stood up to tell her story ― in the face of discrimination by those around her.
She initially gave her baby up for adoption after becoming pregnant at the age of 35. The father refused to be involved in the child’s life, and her older brother warned her that raising the baby would affect their parents too.
“In Korean society, raising a baby alone is not just my problem,” she explained, referring to the stigma imparted on the entire family.
But when she took her son back to care for him herself she was forced to close her beauty shop after people discovered she was an unwed mother. After the local press reported that she did not have a husband, people began calling to check that it was true.
After six months, sales dropped, and coworkers began discriminating against her. “The drop in sales was difficult, but more difficult was the hurt I received from other people,” she said.
“These people were like my family, they came to my home and we ate together. But because I am an unwed mother ... they thought badly of me.”
Although she has struggled financially and emotionally, she says she has no regrets.
“Even though life is difficult, when I see my son smile, I live for that.”
No registration is required for the International Conference and freewill donations are accepted from those attending on the day. Visit http://justicespeaking.wordpress.com for more information, details on donating to the gift drive or to contribute in other ways.
By Hannah Stuart-Leach (firstname.lastname@example.org