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Date: Sat, 24 Oct 98 11:24:50 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: SOUTH KOREA: Families Crumble Under Recession’s Toll
Article: 46090
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.21918.19981026001555@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 523.0 **/
** Topic: POPULATION-SOUTH KOREA: Families Crumble Under Recession’s Toll **
** Written 4:06 PM Oct 11, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Families Crumble Under Recession’s Toll

By Ahn Mi Young, IPS, 8 October 1998

SEOUL, Oct 8 (IPS)—Six-year-old Kang In-Kyu never cries. He knows it would not work, says Ko Jae-Kwon, who oversees an orphanage in Anyang, 30 km south of Seoul.

Kang has been at the orphanage since June when his father, who lost his job at a construction firm in January, could no longer support his son. His mother had run away.

Suddenly, we have a lot more kids like In-kyu after the crisis last December, Ko says, referring to the economy’s collapse.

Kang’s plight underlines one of heaviest social costs of South Korea’s recession—the tearing apart of once close-knit family ties and structures that in Asian societies are supposed to act as safety nets in times of hardship.

The stress and social toll are particularly steep for the baby-boomer generation raised in post-war prosperity, unlike older Koreans who can take today’s hard times more stoically after having suffered through the 1950-52 Korean War.

For Koreans in their late 30s and 40s, the country’s economic collapse is a humiliating throwback to the past. Even those who spent their childhood in war-caused hardship thought they had conquered poverty—until Seoul had to seek a 58 billion U.S. dollar bail-out from the International Monetary Fund last year.

So as South Korea wallows in its worst crisis in decades, children are being abandoned by parents no longer able to support them. Many marriages are unable to take the strain.

The biggest victims are children and youngsters. For a Korean family that depends entirely on the father for income, a job- losing father means drying up all income sources, says Joe Hung- Shik, social welfare professor at Seoul National University.

Her father’s joblessness is something that Kang Young-Hi, 13, cannot accept which is why she has taken to idling away late in night on Seoul’s streets. I am scared to come back home, she explains. It is so painful to look at my dad at home.

After her 38-year-old father’s garment factory shut down, her mother had to work as a waitress. Kang’s father is alone at home, often drinking in a gloomy mood.

Before the crisis, most calls were about a husband with another woman in bed. But now most of calls come from young wives who cannot bear to have a husband at home, explains Lee Ok, who runs a family counselling call centre in Seoul.

Divorce rates have skyrocketed in the past year. Applications for divorce at the Seoul district family court increased from 524 in January to 850 in August. More than half of these cases were said to have been caused by economic woes.

Divorce is no longer a last resort for baby-boomer parents, says Kim Hyo-Nam, chief counsellor at Seoul Family Counselling Centre. Unlike their parents who put their children before everything, baby-boomer parents tend to take divorce more lightly, she added.

As the divorce rate rises, so does the number of divorce orphans that neither mother nor father want to take care of after divorce. At the 24 children’s welfare centres in Seoul, half of the 3,000 children have come from divorced families.

Apart from coping with stress and broken families, many South Korean children also have to deal with something South Koreans had worked so hard to get rid of: starving.

Recently, the education ministry announced survey findings showing that some 120,000 among 8.1 million students have been skipping lunch because they cannot not afford to buy food.

The news came as a shock, shame and pain for many adult South Koreans who take pride in decades of industrialisation that led to its becoming a tiger economy. Still, many are trying to help in their own way.

Choi Ju-Chan, head of a vocational training institute for teenagers, leads the Seoul branch of the Food Bank, a support network that collects remaining food from food companies, bread shops or wedding houses in order to feed hungry children.

Coming out of the Paris bakery with pastries and bread, he said: This is going to be delivered to orphanages.

The ministry of health and welfare says 614,000 U.S. dollars worth of food have been donated to needy children by 2,630 sales outlets during first half of 1998. In fact, the government is considering giving tax incentives to these donors.

The government has also had to use limited state funds to help youngsters be fed reasonably well and to keep them in school.

Seoul has set aside 17 million dollars as this year’s food subsidies for 120,000 needy and starving students.

The education budget was cut back from 13.4 billion dollars in 1997 to 12.4 billion dollars in 1998, and down to 11.6 billion won in 1999, reports the education ministry. Surveys also show that 10 percent of job-losing families were considering giving up higher education for their kids.

Seoul is drawing up plans to provide 28.6 to 36 dollars monthly as education subsidies for poor children.

Yet at a time when money is needed, charity funds are running low. An official at the state-run Korea Welfare Foundation said that sponsors of 360 welfare centres nationwide have decreased from 95,800 in September 1997 to October this year.

Charity, as well as government intervention, are lifelines for a country where social safety nets of the sort available in many Western countries, do not exist.

Worse, the families expected to be society’s fallback are not always able to survive the effects of the crisis. What we need most is measures for helping to resolve a fundamental problem: The crisis is diluting family attachment, says Kim Myong-Sook, a family counsellor at the ministry of health and welfare.

While personality differences used to be the main reason for the break-up of marriages, Jang Kyong-Sup, sociology professor at the Seoul National University, says this no longer applies to our families that are collapsing under the weight of dwindling income and job loss.