State of reproductive rights remains dire in North Korea

[As Heard in North Korea]
Unification Media Group  |  2018-04-11 16:03

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting the North Korean people.

Unification Media Group (UMG): Lately, women giving up their children is a problem on the rise in North Korea. Its being reported that after giving birth to unwanted children, mothers are abandoning them in the streets, and the North Korean government has yet to implement an effective countermeasure to the phenomenon. Lets take a closer look at this issue with reporter Seol Song Ah.
Seol Song Ah (Seol): At first glance, this may seem like an ethical issue, but the problem requires deeper consideration. Whether they want to or not, it is almost a requirement for women in North Korea to have to work in the market. As a side effect of the market taking hold in North Korea, ideas about sex are also becoming more and more liberal, leading to a sharp increase in pregnancies and childbirth outside of wedlock.  
Society tends to look very unfavorably upon unmarried women who end up pregnant and/or giving birth to children in these circumstances. North Koreas fertility policy, which doesnt permit women to use birth control, is making matters worse. North Korea emphasizes loyalty to the regime and to the family by asserting that women are a powerful driving force that pushes one side of the wheels of the cart of the revolution. In response to a system that fails to provide any support, women are pushed into the regrettable choice of having to abandon their children. In this segment, we are going to examine one of the many negative aspects of North Korean society by taking a look at the situation of North Korean women.
UMG: In South Korea, women who give birth out of wedlock are supported by our legal system. It doesnt seem like there are the same protective measures in place in North Korea.
Seol: When I first came to South Korea, I was amazed by the use of the word, "single mother." I had thought it was a matter of course to vilify a woman who gave birth outside of wedlock, labeling her immoral. Instead, the South Korean government pays not only for the cost of the birth, but also for all of the childs hospital fees. I was truly touched by the governments policies towards helping women in a time of emotional and economic distress that accompanies giving birth to an unexpected child.
When a woman gives birth out of wedlock in North Korea, the very thought of raising the child is a luxury. Panicked by the situation, it becomes a miracle if parents decide to give up their child for adoption in secret, with most women resorting to either forced abortions or outright abandonment of their children. The North Korean government has decided that the root cause of the problem is capitalism and has structured its response around trying to uproot it from society.  
UMG: Even children from unwed mothers have a right to life that needs to be respected by the government. 
Seol: If times are hard, at the very least youre able to send your child to an orphanage. Its a better alternative than leaving them to die, but even still, it doesnt ensure much. There are many children who starve to death in orphanages.
Generally, going to an orphanage to give up your children is avoided because it is considered shameful. The most humane choice is to ask around and send your child to a family that has no children.
As a last resort, single mothers will wrap their newborn baby in cloth and abandon them on the streets. According to a source I spoke with in South Pyongan Province at the end of last year, apartment residents went out to an intersection near a department store because they heard crying. When they arrived, they discovered a newborn baby who was wrapped in a flower-covered blanket. 

"Judging from the fact that the baby was dressed well, its probable that the mother of the child was from a wealthy family," she said.
UMG: Its very fortunate that they were able to find the child. What happened afterwards?
Seol: According to our source, the neighborhood watch took the child to the local authorities, but the neighborhood office didnt have the means to deal with the situation either. In the end the child was adopted into a family, where the couple had been married for five years without conceiving any children. However, there was a problem with this as well. The family the child was adopted into was incredibly poor, living day by day, with the wife selling corn off the back of a cart in the market.
The woman who adopted the child ended up getting quite attached, but having to rely on buying formula imported from China, the child ended up dying after 6 months due to malnutrition. Personally, my heart goes out to the young mother.  
UMG: That is really, very tragic. You said earlier that the biological mother was very well off, so everything would have turned out alright if she had just taken care of the child. Its really hard for me to understand how something like that could happen.
Seol: Like I said earlier, its different to South Korea because there is no system in place to protect single mothers. Its a very difficult decision where you have to take into consideration your own needs and how you will be labeled as an "indecent" woman by North Korean society.
Notably, North Korea emphasizes a sense of duty over womens rights. In a publication entitled "Joseon Woman," the notion of womens strength is a common theme, stressing that women are not only people to serve men and take care of the house, they must show results through their efforts.
When the government emphasizes effort-based results, they are talking about not only adding to the labor force, but also raising and contributing funds to the regime. Faced with this kind of social pressure, unmarried women are left with the idea that giving up their child is a wise choice not only for themselves, but also one that is good for society as a whole.   
UMG: It seems like North Korean society is changing, but the government isnt doing a very good job of keeping up. 
Seol: At the very least, if North Koreans had access to basic sex education, then the problem wouldnt have gotten this bad. The market there has expanded to allow the inflow of foreign culture, causing perceptions about sexual relations to change. However, instead of proactively trying to solve the problem, the North Korean government insists on strengthening laws against "yellow capitalism," in an effort to crackdown on what it perceives to be the causes of the countrys problems.
Restricting access to birth control through North Koreas fertility policy is also a huge part of the problem. Its almost as if women end up as the only victims. Our source who is in her 40s told me that she wished she had been born a man.
She also mentioned that she had given birth to a child out of wedlock. She ended up divorcing her husband and had to take care of raising the child all by herself. It would be better if there was some sort of law that would allow her to receive alimony in such a situation. If a couple divorces in North Korea, theres nothing for the woman. Even if they divorce through the proper legal process, all of the costs and responsibility for raising the child falls on her. Even worse, if the child is born out of wedlock, you really have nowhere to turn to.

*Translated by Brian Boyle

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