by Seneca Moraleda-Puguan

It’s been more than two months since we left South Korea for good, but we still find ourselves praying and caring for its people.

We have a lot of beautiful covenant relationships gained there, both with the locals and internationals, that we just couldn’t let them go.

South Korea will always be a home for our family and it affects us when it’s hit by a crisis.

Recently, The Korean Herald published an article that states over 150 elementary schools have no first graders, according to the Korean Ministry of Education. Only less than 400,000 children across South Korea entered school this year.

This signals the consequences of an evident demographic crisis caused by the world’s lowest birth rate. According to another local news outlet, the Korea JoongAng Daily, schools in the capital Seoul face closures and mergers as enrollment plummets.

This is very alarming, but not surprising. Having lived in South Korea for a long time, we knew that this was coming. Indeed, one of Asia’s most powerful nations is in crisis.

Before leaving Korea, we took time to meet with the people we have built beautiful relationships with.

We spent precious hours with former students from my husband’s previous university who now have families of their own.

Our friends who are now married and have one child have no intention to add another baby as they find life in South Korea very expensive for raising a child.

Another friend who just got married a year ago said having a baby is not part of their future plans because he and his wife think that raising a child in such a tough society can be burdensome.

It was very heartbreaking to hear their plights but at the same time, because we have become a part of their society and have witnessed the challenges that they face as locals, we understand where they are coming from.

The South Korean government’s efforts to encourage its people to have more children by offering incentives to married couples, have been unsuccessful.

The competitive job market, heavy academic pressure, high cost of living and education, gender discrimination in the workplace, and so much more dissuade the younger Korean generation of married couples from producing offspring.

Thus, this lowers the nation’s birth rate, increases the aging population, and affects the nation’s long-term economic health.

Female employees are reluctant to have babies because they lack support at work and even at home. Pregnant women face serious disadvantages at work.

Some companies prefer to hire men because they see women as a liability when they get married and have children. Even at home, the women are expected to do all the household chores and child-rearing.

I have a Filipina friend married to a Korean national who loves her daughter but is traumatized to have another baby. She had a caesarian delivery, but she was still expected to do the household chores at home a few days after giving birth.

Faced with cultural and economic discrimination, many South Korean women think that having children is a luxury they cannot afford.

The demographic crisis that South Korea is facing, being the country with the lowest fertility rate and projected to be the world’s “super-aged” society, calls for a sense of urgency to its government and people in addressing this dire issue.

I pray that there will be a transformation in the workplace, in households, and in the culture to encourage families to multiply.

I pray that it will not reach the point where the ‘Land of Morning Calm’ will be erased from the map because its population aged, shrank, and desisted from existing.

Time is running out but it’s never too late. There is still hope. Let’s pray for my beloved second home, South Korea.

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