Friday, March 19, 2010

The NHRCK stands up for the rights of pregnant teens

The Joongang Ilbo reports on a recent decision by the National Human Rights Commission regarding pregnant teens and their right to an education:
The National Human Rights Commission said yesterday that any school that forces a student to drop out because she is pregnant is being discriminatory and infringing on her right to an education.

The announcement follows the case of Kim Su-hyeon, 19, a teenager who was forced to drop out during her senior year of high school last year because of a pregnancy. Though many Western countries allow pregnant high school students to complete their educations, Kim’s case is the first of its kind in Korea to be decided by the commission. Kim agreed to reveal her real name to the JoongAng Ilbo, commenting that she hoped her case would help other teenage mothers who have been forced to end their studies. Last April, Kim, who attended Ganghwa Girls High School in Incheon, took a pregnancy test. The result was devastating. [...] The father: Kim’s boyfriend, Choi Seong-ho, 25 years old at the time.
According to Yonhap, she was in her last year of high school at the time (making her 17 or 18 at the time). Oh, and her high school is indeed on Ganghwa-do, where I doubt there are many hagwons to send students to (and where students have more free time to dabble in 'extra curricular activities').
After some discussion with Choi, Kim decided to have the child but also continue with her high school education. But when teachers learned of the situation, they told Kim to bring her parents to school because she needed to drop out or go to another school. They told Kim that school regulations state that any student who disrupts the moral code of the school with an “unwholesome relationship” is subject to expulsion.
The full quote from this NoCut news article:
She and her boyfriend and others protested, but the school said, “A student whose scandalous behaviour damages the school’s reputation or who threatens morality by having an unwholesome relationship can be expelled,” according to school rules.
Obviously the school considers any sexual activity by its students to be "unwholesome," though I wonder if only girls are punished for it. "Unwholesome" could be translated as "unhealthy" as well, and perhaps the school is correct, but if it is, the school system itself is responsible for not teaching the students anything about reproductive health. A Korea Time article (which incorrectly states that she was 16) adds that "The school argued such a measure was necessary because she breached the school's code of conduct and that attendance of a pregnant student would have a bad influence on others." The Joongang Ilbo article continues.
The next day, Kim’s mother, Yang Gyeong-ae, 47, got on her knees and pleaded with Kim’s main teacher, saying that if her daughter was expelled, she would not be able to enroll again at a high school or even take a high school equivalency test. Kim’s teachers, however, were adamant. She had to leave. They even threatened to report Kim’s boyfriend to police for having sexual relations with a minor. So Kim dropped out, and Yang brought the case to the attention of the commission.
Since Kim was older than 12, I'm not sure if the boyfriend could be reported for having sex with a minor. But then it seems no one is sure. According to the Korea Times "her high school made her drop out by even threatening that it might sue her boyfriend for the pregnancy." (Perhaps the KT article is just badly translated). According to the Donga Ilbo, the school found out about her pregnancy on April 13, and on April 17 she left school.
Soon, the commission requested that the school take Kim back. After the school refused, the principal got a warning letter from the regional education office. The school finally relented and Kim was able to re-enroll in July and received her diploma.

Kim is far from being alone as a teenage mother. Data from the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service shows that there were around 3,300 teenage births in 2008. According to a survey by the Korea’s human rights commission, 87.6 percent of teenage moms continued their educations. But one-third dropped out. [...]
According to the aforementioned Korea Times article,
According to the latest survey of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, less than 17 percent of single mothers attend school in Korea.

Eighty-five percent of unmarried student-mothers quit school though nearly 60 percent of them wanted to continue their studies, according to a 2008 report by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
Make of the rather different figures what you will.
“Forcing a student to drop out is clear discrimination and goes against the student’s right to have an education,” an official at the human rights commission said. “If a teenager stops her education because she is pregnant, there is a high possibility she might not find a job and become entangled in a vicious cycle of poverty.”

Last December, Kim gave birth to a daughter, Si-eun, and is now a student in the tax and accounting department at Kimpo College. “My dream, upon hearing the baby’s heartbeat, became a reality. My goal now is to get a scholarship,” Kim said.
Yesterday this article "One in eight female students at this school are pregnant" (about a school in Chicago) appeared on different sites in Korean cyberspace, which I doubt is a coincidence. At any rate, cheers to the NHRCK for this decision - it's nice to see more options available for young mothers, especially when the government is so concerned with the low birth rate. So concerned, this lengthy AP article argues, that the government is cracking down on abortions. This KT article notes that many doctors are coming out against the law and taking a pro-choice stance, though this is hardly surprising considering the money to made from abortions. It also offers these statistics:
According to a study by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 2005, a total of 342,433 abortions were conducted nationwide, while 435,031 babies were born in the same year. But activists claim the reported cases are the tip of the iceberg, estimating that the actual number is around 1.5 to 2 million each year.
The Chosun Ilbo reports that the abortion law may be changed, along with another controversial law:

The government is moving to scrap Korea's singularly punitive adultery law. A special committee under the Justice Ministry tasked with reforming the country's criminal code in a recent meeting agreed to abolish the draconian law, a member said Wednesday. Consisting of 24 legal experts endorsed by the judiciary, prosecution and the Korean Bar Association, the special committee has been discussing the overhaul of the criminal code since September 2007.[...]

The committee is also reportedly discussing permitting abortions, which remain illegal in Korea. "We have not reached any conclusions since it is a very controversial issue," a committee member said. "But discussions are under way allowing abortions if they are conducted before a certain period of pregnancy and clamping down on those that take place after that phase as seen in advanced countries."
These sound like good ideas to me. Of course, giving teenagers access to more information about reproductive health might reduce the need for abortions, but seeing as the debate over sex education in schools has been going on for years, I don't expect any to see any major changes on that front any time soon.

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