In a country that emphasizes strongly conservative sexual mores, births outside of marriage are both frowned upon and rare. Such is the mix of social conditions, culture and taboo that the nation has the lowest proportion of out-of-wedlock births in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, at just over 2 per cent. The average among the club of rich nations, in contrast, exceeds that figure more than 15-fold.
These births, in fact, represent only a tiny fraction of the number of unwed women who become pregnant, as more than 90 per cent of whom have chosen abortion over giving birth in recent years, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Most of those who do carry their pregnancy to full term ultimately give their baby up for adoption, according to data from the National Assembly Research Service.
Common or not, out-of-wedlock birth and single parenthood remain a reality for society and policymakers to grapple with. Currently, the government provides about 70,000 won ($64) to unwed mothers each month, financial support that dries up if the recipient starts earning about 1.2 million won a month, according to Choi Hyong-sook, an unwed mother and secretary-general of Dandelions, a group for Korea adoptees' families of origin.
"The government's financial support is too low and, even though it has many policies for unwed mothers, every policy has many difficult requirements for support," the mother of a 9-year-old boy told The Korea Herald.
Choi said that it was easier for her to earn money and manage with an older child, but that mothers with infants should be able to rely on support regardless of their income.
"Up until 24 months of age, the government should provide support without consideration of income," she said. "(Seeing) families who adopt receive 150,000 won without regard to their income, so many unwed mothers think adoption is better than raising your child."