The South Korean government has announced its fourth masterplan for healthy families, which will serve as a basis for its family policy for 2021-2025. The plan aims to expand the concept of family under the law to accommodate various types of family, including cohabitation, common-law marriage, cohabitation between the elderly, and foster families for abused children, and to abolish the rule that automatically gives babies their father’s surname so that they can have their mother’s surname when filing birth record.
The current Civil Law and the Framework Act on Healthy Families recognize relationships formed only by marriage, blood ties, and adoption as families. However, the definition of family has diversified and people’s perception on family is changing rapidly. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family last year, about 70 percent of respondents said those who make a living together and live together constitute a family even if their relationships are not based on marriage or blood ties. As of 2019, the proportion of typical families consisting of two parents rearing their children was 29.8 percent, less than that of single-person household (30.2%).
It is necessary to changes laws and institutions to reflect the changes of the times. If the gap between the law and reality grows, it could create cracks in policy. However, some pain is inevitable to change the tradition that has been passed on through generations. The religious circle has expressed concerns about expanding the scope of family. Cardinal Yeon Soo-jung said it goes against the beliefs and ethics of the Catholic Church on family and marriage, and the United Christian Churches of Korea said the issue needs careful consideration. On the other hand, women’s organizations are calling for more aggressive policy changes.
Changes in family policies are a sensitive issue that can have a great impact on society as family is the basic unit in society. The issue can develop into a conflict between generations and genders since different age groups and genders have different perceptions. This is why creating a consensus through a wide range of discussions will be the key to success. In order to minimize any side effects and create family policies in tune with the times, the government should reach social consensus through public debates and reorganize the law and institutions based on it.