The Peace Weekly, in efforts to strengthen the culture of life movement, is spreading the word in its weekly column and news dispatches. In a recent issue a professor emeritus of the Catholic University reports that the birthrate in Korea is the lowest in the world. Theoretically, to maintain the present population each couple has to give birth to one daughter who in turn gives birth to another daughter. In Korea this is not happening.
What makes the situation worse is that women in larger numbers than in the past are avoiding marriage. And those who do marry but don't want children is increasing. In 2005, the number of women who said it was of little concern to them whether they married or not was 44.9 percent. 35 percent said it made no difference whether they had children or not; in 1997, it was only 9.7 percent, a colossal change.
This change began in 1961 with the government's efforts to lower the birthrate. Their approach was to dispense family planning advice in public health centers, with personnel having little sensitivity to the circumstances of the expectant mother, recommending to all the use of artificial means of birth control. Another means to lower the birthrate was to curtail health insurance for giving birth to a third child. In addition, those who were sterilized were given preference for apartments. During this time, there was a climate of not respecting the human rights of citizens in these matters, and abortion became the accepted method of reducing births.
Other countries are showing more anxiety with our reduced birthrate than we are, the professor laments. David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford, said that if Korea continues in its present direction, it will be the first nation to disappear from the earth. The UN Future Forum also said that if the birthrate in Korea continues to decrease, by 2305, it will be a country with a population of 50,000, 20,000 men and 30,000 women. This should make us think seriously about our present policies.
Our government, however, is now working to bring about a change, to alleviate the most pressing problems. With many avoiding giving birth because of the expense of raising and educating the children, the government is offering help to lessen the financial burden. Many local governments are giving about $10,000 for any 3rd child, but this is not having much of an effect because of the persuasive policies of the recent past to lower birthrates.
In 1980, one of the slogans was "Even one is many." And the government set up the Family Planning Association to decrease the number of births. In 1999, this group became the Family Welfare Association, and in 2005, the name was again changed to the Public Health and Welfare Association, whose goal was now "Making a world fit for children to be born." It soon became a movement to help raise and educate children and to help sterile couples. Looking back, the professor says it is laughable to see how exaggerated were the threats to the country of an increasing birthrate.
The Church from the beginning made clear its position on this issue, but was reviled by the government for not going along with their policy. It is important to do all that is possible to raise the birthrate but also to keep in mind the importance of bringing about a culture that sees the preciousness of life and the family.