Filed under: 50:50, abortion, feminism, genocide, sexual and reproductive health rights (SHRH), sexual education
by Aurelie Placais – journalism student in China
Being a foreign student in China where 70% of the international students are South Korean, I have learnt some very interesting details about South Korea ; especially concerning sexual and reproductive rights in this developed country.
The first questions I asked were really simple to me, but the answers I got were quite surprising. Amongst the topics that come on the table, the conception of the wedding came first.
For the majority of the older generation, the arranged marriage was the norm. No matter if the married couple loved each other, they had to come from the same social background and it was usually chosen when they were only children. “My husband’s mother got married at 18 years old, she didn’t choose her husband and didn’t know if they would like each other; they never did and she has suffered a lot”; told me Jin Ya, a married woman in her 30’s with two children.
For the new generation things have changed, but not incredibly so: tradition is still a very heavy burden where marriage is controlled by the parents. If they don’t agree with their children’s choice, the wedding won’t happen. They also consider that there should be no sexual relation before marriage, let alone unmarried couple living together or having children. When I pop up the question, Han sounded so astonished: “of course your parents won’t agree if you live together before getting married! Maybe some people do so now, but it is a secret, they wouldn’t tell anyone.” She is 22 and has been with her boyfriend for two years now. He came to China with her and they want to get married but even thousand miles away from their parents, they don’t dare living together.
When it comes to sexual relations, things are a bit different. Although their parents would not tolerate it, most young students already had experienced it. Most of them already had several boyfriends and had sex with some of them. According to Han this evolution was made possible by the television that broadcasts series showing examples of young unmarried couple having sex: “it is very easy to know that you can do it and how to do it”.
I then asked for the contraception they usually use and this is where I was surprised: condoms are not easy to ask for in the pharmacy, birth control pills are “dangerous for the health” and they don’t trust them and last but not least they did not know if abortion was legal or not. Of course they cannot ask this kind of questions to their parents: “it’s very difficult to talk about this problem, we can only talk with our closest friends, and the information is so hard to get” told me Kim and Yu. Even at school, they don’t have any any available information.
Officially, abortion is legally permitted but only up to the eighth week of gestation, and only in cases of transmitted or genetically diseases, incest, rape or when the health of the mother is at great risk. However, abortion is routinely used as a form of contraception. Between 1.5 and 2 million abortions are performed annually; it is the second highest number of abortions in the world. That may explains why the women I asked didn’t know if it was legal or not. Legislation is disconnected from reality.
It is true that the other means of contraception are not as well spread as they should be, and some efforts to teach women about safe sex, condoms, pills and other birth control methods have to be made – especially since information on sexually transmitted diseases is lacking.
But more importantly, eighty percent of abortions are done for gender-selection purposes – to abort female fetuses:
Many women in South Korea are torn between demands of age-old social tradition that obligates them to bear sons and growing appreciation of females in Korean Society; approximately one of every 12 fetuses is aborted each year because of its sex (NY Times, reg. req).
South Korea indeed shares the same catastrophe as India and China: according to their tradition, women are better off giving birth to boys, and abortion is a very discrete way to get rid of unwanted female foetus. Currently being the opposite of what it is supposed to be, abortion is not a way to emancipate women and to give them the choice to decide by themselves wether or not they want to give birth; it is a way to perpetuate masculine domination through the control of the child’s sex.