’No place for a mother’: S. Korea battles to raise birth rate

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This photo taken on May 24, 2017 shows a social worker caring for a baby at the Jusarang Community Church in southern Seoul. (AFP)
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This photo taken on September 22, 2018 shows a man carrying a baby on a train platform at the Seoul railway station. (AFP)
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This photo taken on June 25, 2015 shows a child sitting at a piano in Gwanghwamun square in Seoul. (AFP)
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(FILES) This photo taken on March 22, 2016 shows a child gesturing to a woman at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. (AFP)
Updated 18 December 2018
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’No place for a mother’: S. Korea battles to raise birth rate

  • Now 27, she has been rejected at several job interviews as soon as she revealed she had a child, and has given up seeking employment, trying to set up her own trading business instead

SEOUL: When Ashley Park started her marketing job at a Seoul drugmaker she had a near-perfect college record, flawless English, and got on well with her colleagues — none of which mattered to her employer once she fell pregnant.
Nine months after she joined, Park said, “They said to my face that there is no place in the company for a woman with a child, so I needed to quit.”
All the women working at the firm were single or childless, she suddenly realized, and mostly below 40.
Park’s case exemplifies why so many South Korean women are put off marriage and childbirth, pushing the country’s birth rate — one of the world’s lowest — ever further down.
Earlier this month Seoul announced its latest set of measures to try to stem the decline, but critics say they will have little to no effect in the face of deep-seated underlying causes.
Many South Korean firms are reluctant to employ mothers, doubting their commitment to the company and fearing that they will not put in the long hours that are standard in the country — as well as to avoid paying for their legally-entitled birth leave.
When Park refused to quit, her boss relentlessly bullied her — banning her from attending business meetings and ignoring her at the office “like I was an invisible ghost” — and management threatened to fire her husband, who worked at the same company.
After fighting for about six months, she finally relented and offered her resignation, giving birth to a daughter a month later. Aside from a brief stint at an IT start-up that did not keep its promise of flexible working hours, she has been a stay-at-home mother ever since.
“I studied and worked so hard for years to get a job when youth unemployment was so high, and enjoyed my work so much... and look what happened to me,” Park told AFP.
Now 27, she has been rejected at several job interviews as soon as she revealed she had a child, and has given up seeking employment, trying to set up her own trading business instead.
“The government kept telling women to have more children... but how, in a country like this?” she asked.

The South’s fertility rate — the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime — fell to 0.95 in the third quarter of 2018, the first time it has dropped below 1 and far short of the 2.1 needed to maintain stability.
As a result of the trend, which has been dubbed a “birth strike” by women, the population of the world’s 11th largest economy, currently 51 million, is expected to start falling in 2028.
Many cite reasons ranging from the expense of child-rearing, high youth unemployment, long working hours and limited daycare to career setbacks for working mothers.
Even if women hold on to their jobs, they bear a double burden of carrying out the brunt of household chores.
Patriarchal values remain deeply ingrained in the South: nearly 85 percent of South Korean men back the idea of women working, according to a state survey, but that plummets to 47 percent when asked whether they would support their own wives having a job.
Employment rates for married men and women are dramatically different — 82 percent and 53 percent respectively.
Now nearly three-quarters of South Korean women aged 20-40 see marriage as unnecessary, an opinion poll by a financial magazine and a recruitment website showed. But almost all children in the South are born in wedlock.

Against that backdrop, the South’s government has spent a whopping 136 trillion won ($121 billion) since 2005 to try to boost the birth rate, mostly through campaigns to encourage more young people to wed and reproduce, without success.
Earlier this month it announced yet another round of measures.
They included expanding child subsidies of up to 300,000 won ($270) a month, and allowing parents with children younger than eight to work an hour less each day to take care of their offspring.
More daycare centers and kindergartens will be built, and men will be allowed — but not obliged — to take 10 days of paid birth leave, up from the current three.
But many measures were not legally binding and carried no punishment for firms that denied their workers the promised benefits, and the package met a disdainful response.
“The government policies are based on this simplistic assumption that ‘if we give more money, people would have more children’,” the Korea Women Workers Association said in a statement.
Seoul should first address “relentless sexual discrimination at work and the double burden of work and housechores” for women, it added.
The centrist Korea Times newspaper also questioned whether such “lacklustre” state policies would bring in real change unless the government tackled the real drivers of women shunning marriage and childbirth.
“Unless these harsh conditions for women change, no amount of government subsidies will convince women having children is a happy choice.”


Jury awards $250,000 to US woman jailed without seeing a judge

Updated 10 min 7 sec ago
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Jury awards $250,000 to US woman jailed without seeing a judge

  • Jessica Jauch jailed 96 days without seeing a judge, a case spotlighting how Mississippi state still struggles to provide access to lawyers
  • After finally seeing a judge, she was appointed a public defender and was eventually cleared of the drug charge

JACKSON, Mississippi: A Mississippi jury awarded $250,000 in damages Tuesday to a woman jailed 96 days without seeing a judge, a case spotlighting how Mississippi still struggles to provide access to lawyers or bail to people jailed before trial.
The verdict included $200,000 in damages against Choctaw County Sheriff Cloyd Halford and $50,000 against the county. It was handed down Tuesday after a two-day trial in federal court in Aberdeen. The jury was only determining how much Jauch was owed, after US District Court Judge Sharion Aycock earlier ruled that the county and Halford were liable.
Jessica Jauch was originally arrested on traffic charges in 2012 and held in Choctaw County after being served with a drug indictment. While in jail, she was forced to temporarily sign over her daughter’s custody rights to her mother. After finally seeing a judge, she was appointed a public defender and quickly made bail. Eventually, she was cleared of the drug charge after undercover video didn’t show her committing any crime.
Daniel Griffith, a lawyer who represented Choctaw County in the trial, said Jauch testified that other women who were arrested would bond out quickly. Jauch’s own lawyer, Israel Fleitas, declined comment. Griffith said Halford and Jauch shook hands while jurors were deliberating Tuesday.
“I can tell you the sheriff is a good man,” Griffith said.
Griffith said the county government’s damages will be paid by insurance. He wasn’t sure if Halford is insured or if he will have to pay his share of the money personally. Jurors awarded the $250,000 as compensatory damages, rejecting additional money for punitive damages.
Halford had argued that he didn’t have to take Jauch before a judge until court met because she’d already been indicted on a felony drug charge, thus establishing probable cause for her detention. The problem was that in Choctaw County, like many rural Mississippi counties, circuit court only meets twice a year, and the next meeting was months away.
The county and Halford also argued the illegal detention was the fault of failures by state court judges. It’s unlikely Jauch would have ever collected money from judges because they’re generally immune from lawsuits.
Aycock originally agreed with the county, dismissing Jauch’s case in 2016. But the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals was sharply critical of Aycock’s ruling, reinstating Jauch’s case in 2017 and calling her detention “unjust and unfair” and “alien to our law.” The full 5th Circuit and the US Supreme Court refused to hear further appeals by the county.
Mississippi has continuing issues with people being arrested before trial and held for months or years with little access to a lawyer or bail. Since Jauch was arrested, the state Supreme Court has enacted new rules of criminal procedure last year that are showing some progress in keeping poor people from being stuck in jail without a lawyer or bail. Those rules say that, among other things, those arrested before being indicted are supposed to appear before a judge within two business days, and anyone arrested after indictment must be arraigned within 30 days.
Griffith, who represents a number of local governments, said those rules are making a difference, along with the publicity surrounding Jauch’s case and others in which governments have been sued for jailing people.
“Nobody wants to be sitting where the sheriff was sitting,” Griffith said.
He said Choctaw County jailers are now sending a list of inmates who need a court appearance to a judge every day. Ultimately, though, Griffith said Mississippi needs a statewide system of public defenders, instead of the part-time defenders who are assigned in most counties. Lawmakers failed to act this year on such a proposal put forward by a task force.