Sunday, August 8, 2010

Last whirlwind days

The last two days of the trip were a whirlwind and now we are home. We talked with journalists (see the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network on Facebook for links to potential resulting articles), legislators, researchers and service providers. We visited the Hambumo Center for single and unwed parents located in one of the Seoul Healthy Family Centers and learned about their work and shared ideas about working with moms and their children.

One of the remarkable aspects of our conversations in the last few days and really all week, was the discussion of unwed fathers. When we started this work, the entire focus was on the moms. If we mentioned fathers, everyone said sure they exist, but no one will focus on their responsibility. Here we are just a couple of years later and many times this week, in many different settings, people wanted to talk about the responsibilities of unwed fathers, the fathers of unwed mother’s children. There are a number of efforts under way to submit legislation that would require fathers to pay child support. It is clear that the invisibility of unwed fathers is not going to last much longer.

Looking back on the trip, we have a sense of accomplishment. In the last year the government has increased funding for younger unwed mothers. The number of newspaper articles and television reports on the moms has increased dramatically. The national government and some provincial governments are funding programs and research on unwed moms and their children. One of three panels at the IKAA adoption research symposium was devoted to mothers who relinquish and those who don’t. We participated in two strong forums addressing the needs of unwed moms outside of Seoul, in Jeju and Gyeonggi-do. And we hosted the first meeting between unwed mothers and single mothers associations. We met with Professor Smolin and heard his talk at the IKAA symposium. And there was so much more. Wow!

We are celebrating how quickly things change in Korea and how strong the unwed moms are becoming. Their voice is getting every stronger and they speaking out in more forums then every before. At the same time, we are sobered by their suffering and the continued prejudice and discrimination they experience. While the government has increased some kinds of funding for younger moms, most moms continue to struggle with housing and financial needs. There is much more to be done.

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