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South Korea

South Korean Church opposes legal recognition of 'cohabitation'

Catholics are concerned the move will undermine the value of the family and weaken society

UCA News reporter, Seoul

UCA News reporter, Seoul

Published: May 11, 2021 09:08 AM GMT

Updated: May 11, 2021 10:08 AM GMT

South Korean Church opposes legal recognition of 'cohabitation'

More young South Koreans are turning their back on marriage. (Photo supplied)

The South Korean government’s plan for institutional support for families, including out-of-wedlock unions and children, has been hailed as a positive move, but it has triggered concerns from pro-family groups including the Church over legal recognition of cohabitation.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family unveiled its fourth Basic Plan for Healthy Families (2021-25) on April 27 “in the direction of strengthening diversity, universality and gender equality” and announced that it will be the basis of the government’s family policy for the next five years.

The ministry said it aims to “create a society that respects all families and all family members” and promotes the idea of “recognizing family diversity” and the goal is to build “a society that cares equally.”

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The plan seeks to provide institutional support to all families, including the increasing number of single and double-person households, who otherwise face social ostracism and discrimination.

Pro-family groups and the Church have welcomed the government move to end discrimination against out-of-wedlock unions and children but expressed concerns as the plan seems to legally recognize such unions.

Church officials say that legal recognition of cohabitation without marriage will have detrimental effects on society and dismantle the traditional family, basic family system and weaken inherent values of the family.

However, this plan is controversial because it contains content that can shake the perception and values of the family

Father Park Jung-woo, secretary general of the Committee for Life of Seoul Archdiocese, said the Church appreciates the government’s plan for wide-ranging family policies allowing various types of families to get legal and other support for stable life.

“However, this plan is controversial because it contains content that can shake the perception and values of the family that our society has kept for a long time in the name of respecting diversity and accepting the reality of rapid changes in the form of the family,” said Father Park, The Catholic Times of Korea reported on May 9.

The priest says the plan aims to expand the scope for legal recognition of “unmarried cohabitation” by changing the definition of the family. The Civil Law currently defines the family as “a basic unit of society consisting of marriage, blood ties, and adoption.”

“The Church is concerned that this change in the concept of family weakens the value of the special position and vocation of the original 'family' that forms the basis of society, centering on the love and unity of couples and childbirth and rearing,” Father Park said. 

The government’s latest family plan resonates with the sentiments of the rising number of young South Koreans who find marriage unnecessary.

Six out of 10 young people think it unnecessary to get married and have children, according to a survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family released on April 24.

Another study by the Institute of Child Care and Education in 2018 found that 25 percent of Koreans are positive about having children out of wedlock.

Government data shows that in 2019 South Korea had about 30.2 percent single-parent households compared to 29.8 percent households with couples and children, highlighting a growing tendency among South Koreans to remain unmarried to enjoy their personal freedom.

South Korea, a nation of 51.8 million, had the world’s lowest birth rate of 0.84 in 2020, according to state-run Statistics Korea.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy has failed to stop the constant decline in birth rates despite the government spending billions of dollars in childcare subsidies and maternal leave.

The government also struggles to support the growing number of aging people as the nation is expected to become “a superaged society” with 20 percent of the population over 65 by 2026.

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