The Korea Herald by Lee Yoo-Ri
SEOUL: I wanted to start my column with “Let’s celebrate single mums” but since Mother’s Day has been overshadowed by a tragedy that has made so many mothers childless, I have chosen to start with the grief of the Sewol.
The tragedy of the Korean ferry Sewol, carrying a great many children, has had a profound impact on the whole of Korea. People are angry, sad and shocked, and demand that the captain be severely punished. While the more violent emotions will eventually disappear, many will never forget how awful the disaster was.
Parents who lost their children will be confronted with empty beds every day. But the Sewol disaster has also deeply affected many others around the world.
Most people often forget how transitory life can be, especially when you and your partner have children together. As parents, you all share the same great wish: a long and happy life for your child.
Of course, you do sometimes think about the eventuality of losing your partner to disease or an accident. In that case, you would have to raise your child alone. And of course, your child would also struggle with a great loss because he would have had to say farewell to his mummy or daddy.
You would have a lot on your plate within a very short period of time; you would have to care for your child, run the household and go to work or classes, while also suffer an immense sadness in your heart and a great void in your home. But what about if you suddenly became childless?
A tragedy touches everybody. It touched me because I know what it was like for my mother to lose two daughters to adoption. Just like her, countless Korean mothers suffer not because of the death of their children, but because they must pretend they no longer exist.
This is a result of the disgrace that is still associated with single mothers; mothers who had no choice but to give up their children after the Korean War. They had to deal with their grief in solitude.
More than 250,000 parents, like my mother, lost their children because they were forced to leave them at the gates of an orphanage. In a country that has risen from the ashes of the war and is now one of the most important economies in the world, single mothers still are silenced and condemned.
Unfortunately, the position of women in this strong economy is still weak. But it was Sejong the Great, widely praised for his great social and legal reforms, who was also deeply concerned for mothers. He spoke out in favour of their welfare – not just the married ones, but all mothers.
It is with great love that I wish to honour his words today. A mother is not only a mother to her own child, but to all the children around her. The need to respond to his beautiful words is dire, as the emancipation and position of women in society, as well as their social development, is still sorely lagging even in modern times.
Death, in many cases, is unpreventable. Whether its arrival is expected or sudden, death will always catch you off guard. Therefore, I wish to dedicate this column to all parents who suffer the loss of their children.
Single mums are the most courageous women I know. They do their part for the Korean economy, are an important part of the country and simply belong in a healthy and happy society.
Not only do I cry for the children of Sewol, but also for the thousands of single Korean mums and their children.
Will you cry with me?
> Lee Yoo-ri is the president of the Single SuperMom Foundation, a group based in the Netherlands that provides support to unwed mothers and their children.