"Little Mom" Program in Gwangju: Stigma or Support?
The Hankyoreh reports this week on so-called “little moms” or unwed parent families. Read the Hankyoreh article here: Gwangju city government assisting young, unmarried parents
I want to appreciate that the Gwangju government has initiated programs to support unwed mothers. However, I am not a fan of the nicknames and terms attributed to the program, such as “little moms” or “little parents” because although having children between the ages of 18 to 24, these parents are adults and responsible for childrearing. The term ‘little’ seems to minimize their parenthood at a time when much work is being done by groups to combat stigmatization of unwed parents and to promote economic and educational opportunities to increase their participation in the workforce. Further, this program incorporates a mentoring initiative, and I am concerned that the "little moms" might face discrimination and disrepect from the authority vested in these mentors who are 'of the right age and personality to serve as a mother figure' to the 'young mothers' and encouraged to teach them about parenting. The rhetoric here already sounds problematic and stigmatizing against 'young' mothers.
In Gwangju the Community Chest of Korea “plans to offer around US$100 worth of baby products such as powdered milk and diapers each month to 20 selected households” but I wonder if this is sufficient to meet the needs of families, since no statistic was provided in the article. The article claimed that “no surveys on so-called "little mom families" have been conducted in South Korea” but that is just on-face false, haven’t they seen the surveys at KUMSN or couldn’t the Hankyoreh be bothered to do a lit review of family welfare and sociology departments at any of the national universities (like the survey we will cite below)? Maybe if they expanded their search terms beyond “little mom” to “unwed parent” they would have had some results to report.
Finally, the article reports that in addition to providing powdered milk and diapers to 20 familes, “the district also plans to provide emotional support to young families. Because many young parents in South Korea avoid public activity out of shame, instructors will be visiting families to provide parenting education, with psychological testing also made available as needed in partnership with private organizations.” This last bit concerns me, as home visits could become invasive and the mentoring program described in the article needs to be organized around supporting parents – rather than stigmatizing them further. As cited in our previous blog post Single Moms & Korean Fertility Policy 싱글맘와 한국의의 가족계획, according to Boonyoung Han’s 2011 survey of social services for unwed mothers, several mothers reported that state-recruited mentors discouraged them from raising their children and even went so far as to insinuate that their children would be better off if sent abroad for adoption. Mothers also reported that home visits invaded their privacy and that they felt disrespected for social workers and their ‘advice’ about parenting. Hopefully these problems identified in 2011 have offered a constructive criticism that will be taken into account in the Gwangju program.
Han, Boonyoung, Seoul National University, Social Services for Unwed Korean Mothers who are Rearing their Children, GOAL International Adoption Studies Forum, 2011.10.15.