Stuff a Korean Told Me: Vol. 2
While getting to know some of my fellow teachers the other day, one of them mentioned that she’s six months pregnant. As one usually does, I asked whether she knew if it was a boy or a girl. My question was immediately met with some strange glances and akwardness from other teachers as one of them asked aloud, “isn’t it illegal for doctors to tell you the sex of the baby?” What??
The pregnant teacher responded that no, it was no longer illegal. Naturally, I wanted to know more. Their explanation provided some fascinating insight into Korean culture and beliefs.
Korea is a society based on Confucianism, which heavily emphasizes age and gender as determinants of a person’s place in society. Basically, older men run the show, and women are expected to marry and have children. Traditionally, family wealth is passed down to men, and women can’t inherit the wealth of their own family because once they are married, they are a part of the husband’s family. Remaining unmarried is not really an option.
All of this caused a frightening trend; a high rate of selective abortions on female babies. One of the results was an unbalanced male/female ratio in Korea. In 1987, the government enacted a law prohibiting doctors from revealing the sex of an unborn baby in an effort to slow the increasing frequency of female abortions. Of course doctors found ways around it, such as giving away a blue or pink piece of candy at the end of a visit and risked fines and jail time in the process.
Last year Korean courts decided that the ban violated the rights of both parents and doctors, and said the selective gender based abortion is no longer really an issue. As of Janurary 1, 2010, doctors were once again allowed to inform parents as to the gender of their child. Similar laws are still enforced in some Asian countries.