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SEOUL (LifeSiteNews) — Many South Koreans regard the month of May as a “family month,” as there are three days honoring family members and teachers in the month, namely Children’s Day (May 5), Parents’ Day (May 8), and Teachers’ Day (May 15).

To celebrate “family month,” the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has organized and participated in celebrations to deal with the country’s falling birth rates.

In light of the government’s decision to commemorate May as “family month,” Naju City Mayor Yoon Byung-tae lauded the “Month of the Family 2024” festivities organized by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, according to a report by Jeonnam Times that was cited by news outlet Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) on May 20. 

“I hope the family members had fun and made warm memories through this event. We will continue to implement various policies so that all Naju residents can lead a happy family life,” UCAN cited Yoon as saying.  

The ministry’s decision came in wake of South Korea’s declining birth rates, with 2023 witnessing the East Asian country recording a historic low birth rate of 0.72, with talk that the record-low birth rate would fall even further as time goes on. Notably, the 2023 birth rate fell far beneath the rate of 2.1 per woman necessary for a steady population and well behind the rate of 1.24 in 2015, according to media reports.

Lim Young-il, head of the population census division at Statistics Korea, declared, “The number of newborns in 2023 was 230,000, which was 19,200 fewer than the year before, representing a 7.7% decrease.” 

Furthermore, South Korea has previously predicted its fertility rate would most likely decline further to 0.68 in 2024, and Seoul, the country’s capital, suffered the lowest fertility rate in the country, 0.55, last year, The Inquirer reported.

“The issue of low birth rates requires us to take the situation more seriously and contemplate the causes and solutions from a different dimension than before,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol admitted in December, as cited by Yonhap News Agency. 

On May 9, during a speech in a press conference, Yoon outlined his government’s plans to set up a new ministry to address South Korea’s dismal birth rates and have the minister in charge of the new ministry also act as the deputy prime minister in the cabinet. 

“I ask the parliament’s cooperation to revise government organization to set up the Ministry of Low Birth Rate Counter Planning,” Yoon declared at that time.

“We will mobilize all of the nation’s capabilities to overcome the low birth rate, which can be considered a national emergency,” the South Korean leader said, as cited by CNN.

Additionally, Yoon unveiled plans to hire a new senior secretary to promote natalist policies, according to local media citing his spokesperson on May 13.

At that time, a spokesperson from Yoon’s office said, “I believe the problem of low fertility is undoubtedly the most serious problem in South Korean society over the matter of sustainability.” 

According to a Reuters report, South Korea has been the only Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) member country with a rate below 1 since 2018, despite the billions of dollars incurred by the government to buck the trend.

A BBC article in February this year mentioned various reasons as to why some South Korean women decided not to have children. BBC interviewees cited career aspirations, the country’s high cost of living, and the lack of suitable marriage partners as some of the reasons prompting them to remain childless.

One 28-year-old South Korean woman cited by the BBC detailed how she had “seen people who were forced to leave their jobs or who were passed over for promotions after taking maternity leave, thus persuading her “never to have a baby.” 

Likewise, Stella Shin, a teacher at an after-school club, told the BBC, “Mothers need to quit work to look after their child full time for the first two years, and this would make me very depressed. I love my career and taking care of myself.” 

Since 2006, the government has invested over $270 billion in programs to spur couples to have more children, including cash subsidies and babysitting services. 

The present South Korean government under Yoon has even made reversing the falling birthrate a key national priority.

Also, being married is regarded as a prerequisite to having children in South Korea, but with the fall in the number of marriages in the country, the government is mulling permitting “registered cohabitation marriages” in the majority Buddhist-Confucianist country in an attempt to tackle low birth rates, according to Kim Young-mi, vice chairman of the National Committee on Aging and Low Birth Rate, Catholic Peace Broadcasting Corporation (CPBC) reported on January 15 this year.

Kim added that this model would be based on the French “civil solidarity pact,” a civil union contract entered into by two persons over the age of 18, of different sexes or the same sex.

Nonetheless, the Catholic Church condemns the cohabitation of couples who are not sacramentally married. The Church has perennially taught that human love “demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another” that can only be made in marriage (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2391).