Members of the National Assembly of Korea
National Assembly Building
1 Uisadang-daero, Yeongdeungpo-gu
Re: Human Rights Watch Letter to Members of the National Assembly in South Korea About the Protected Birth Bill
Dear Members of the National Assembly,
We write to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch to raise concerns over the Protected Birth Bill, set to be voted in South Korea’s National Assembly on October 25, 2023.
Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental organization that works in about 100 countries documenting human rights violations and advocating for an end to those violations. We work on a wide range of issues including on women’s and children’s rights, such as sexual and reproductive rights, gender-based violence, and rights to education and children separated from families, among other things.
We have published a press release after reviewing the proposed law, and find it concerning that it attempts to tackle issues of unregistered births and unwanted pregnancies by enabling confidential births while not addressing the underlying structural issues and root causes leading to unregistered births. Instead, the bill reinforces patriarchal structures and systems, ableism, and stigma around single motherhood and unwanted pregnancies. The bill fails to ensure that all women, no matter their immigrations status, can register their newborn child. Women’s and children’s rights activists also are concerned that it would privilege giving up a child over other forms of support that might prevent unwanted pregnancies or allow women and girls who wish to keep the child to do so.
To address unregistered births, the National Assembly should immediately take steps to ensure access to contraception and safe abortions, provide comprehensive sexuality education in schools and implement a universal birth registration system. The government should also take measures to address the stigma around single mothers and their children, women and girls with unwanted pregnancies, and people with disabilities, and ensure adequate support services for them.
The proposed law ignores recommendations by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2019 to “consider introducing, as a last resort, the possibility of confidential hospital births” and to prohibit the continued use of illegal “baby boxes” run by religious organizations without government oversight. The Committee recommended that the South Korean government should “ensure that birth registration, including online, is universal and available to all children regardless of their parents’ legal status or origins,” and that all children within its territory are equally able to access “childcare facilities, education, health care, welfare, leisure and state support.”
As a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the South Korean government has an obligation to protect women’s autonomy and socioeconomic rights, and ensure that no woman or girl is forced to give up custody of their children because they are financially unable to care for them.
We call on you to reconsider enacting the Protected Birth Bill, and instead take the following steps:
- Ensure that safe abortions are accessible and affordable to all women and girls, approve of medical abortion pills, and ensure abortions are a medical treatment covered by the national insurance plan.
- Prohibit the continued use of illegal “baby boxes” run by religious organizations, which have no adequate oversight.
- Ensure that women and girls have access to adequate services before considering anonymous childbirth, which should be a last resort.
- Increase financial support, accommodation, and services to single mothers and families in need, ensuring that no one is forced to give up their child solely because of economic hardships or disability.
- Introduce a universal birth registration system, registering all children, no matter their parents’ legal status, ensuring they can access services as they grow up.
- Take measurable and time-bound steps to combat the stigma that single mothers and their children, women and girls with unwanted pregnancies, migrants, and people with disabilities face.
- Implement a mandatory comprehensive sexuality education curriculum in primary and secondary schools that complies with international standards and is scientifically accurate, rights-based, and age-appropriate.
- Introduce a comprehensive and holistic framework that guarantees reproductive autonomy and ensures protection of all children.
Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.
Macarena Saez, Elaine Pearson
Executive Director, Executive Director, Women’s Rights Division, Asia Division,
Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch