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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Korea's NSFW, Part VII: Teen Pregnancy in Korea, a thesis from Kim Jin-seok (김진석)


The rate of sexual intercourse among South Korean Adolescents was around 5% during 2005-2009. This was about one-tenth of that reported by adolescents in the United States and among the lowest when compared to other Asian Countries. Throughout the same period based on the research conducted by Korean Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDCP) and Soonchunhyang University in 2007, South Korean boys as is typical for most countries worldwide reported relatively higher rates of sexual experiences than girls. 

According to KCDCP, Ministry of Education (MOE/교육부/敎育部/Gyoyuk-bu) and Ministry of Health & Welfare (MOHW/보건복지부/保健福祉部/Bogeon Bokji-bu) [2007], 3-4 adolescent girls out of 1,000 reported becoming pregnant each year in this period (2005-2009). These self-report numbers, however, appear to be a bit low (probably due to social desirability) because actual fertility rates among adolescent girls during 2005-2008 varied from 3.8 to 5.5 per 1,000 girls. For example in 2008, South Korean girls' fertility rate of 5.5 out of 1,000 girls was 1.9 (almost two times) higher than that of the pregnancy rate. Although the adolescent fertility rate in South Korea is relatively small, sixth lowest among 39 OECD countries reported in 2008 (World Bank, 2013), the significance of adolescent pregnancy or becoming an adolescent mother for a Korean girl is not as harmless as the numbers might suggest. It is common in South Korea for pregnant adolescents and teen mothers to be stigmatized by other adolescents and adults as well. According to Kim (2010), pregnant adolescents who are attending school are covertly and even at time, overtly forced to quit school or transfer to the another school.

Given these realities, over the last few years, many efforts have been made in South Korea to protect pregnant adolescent girls and adolescent mothers and to provide the necessary services to them and their children. For example in 2010, the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea (NHRC) issued a policy recommendation to three key government departments responsible for various issues related to adolescent mothers regarding their responsibility to protect the adolescent mothers' educational rights. Following this recommendation, MOE advised schools to modify all rules and regulations that hindered adolescent mothers from finishing their education. Additionally, MOHW created a provision that cover the medical expenses of the cost of necessary prenatal care and other medical services for pregnant adolescents and adolescent mothers.

Tradition is based on the influence of Confucianism; as such, people in Korea have been characterized by their conservative attitude toward sexual behaviours both among adolescents and adults. An old adage that describe the strict norms about the relationship between boys and girls of the older generation is that "Boys and girls over the age seven may not sit side-by-side." According to Youn (1996), these customs were thought to refrain adolescents' sex appeal. Consequently, there have been rather firm social and cultural sanctions prohibiting dating among adolescents.

These sexual norms and attitudes although strict do not apply equally to both boys and girls. Youn added that girls in Korea face more restrictions on their activities in relationships to boys and are expected to be chaste while boys' sexual experiences are widely considered 'acceptable'. Typical South Korean parents, who hold more conservative views and attitudes about relationship between boys and girls, place more emphasis on keeping virginity of their daughters until marriage than they do for their sons. It is sometimes even considered a disgrace of the family for a girl in the family to be pregnant or become a mother before marriage. According to Choi (2003) and Yoon (1998), the adolescent girls are to be blamed for the consequences regardless of whodunnit boyfriends and partners when the girls become pregnant or give birth. Even in case where the pregnancy resulted from sexual violence or rape, it is often the victim who is considered to be at fault, at least partly.

These traditional South Korean views about the relationship between adolescent boys and girls are changing, especially among the younger generation. Western culture, imported through popular mass media (films, songs, books and TV shows), which is rather liberal by comparison, have influenced ideas about dating and relationships even for youngsters.