Gov't Mulls Broadening Definition of Families

  • By Kim Yeon-ju

    January 25, 2021 11:02

    The government wants to include cohabiting couples in the definition of families so they can benefit from state support, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said Sunday.

    The ministry will spend the next four years tweaking existing laws to broaden the recognized scope of a family unit.

    Korea's civil law stipulates that the family includes only spouses, blood relatives and their respective spouses.

    There has been so far no study of how many unofficial families in the country go beyond the scope of the definition. Authorities will have to check whether a cohabiting couple are taking care of each other like an actual family unit.

    There is an increasing awareness that a family does not necessarily have to be made up of blood relatives or husband and wife. The ministry polled 1,500 people last year and found that 69.7 percent viewed cohabiting couples as a family if they support each other.

    Also, at the moment only parents are allowed to register the birth of a child, which often leads to problems if the parents for some reason want to keep the birth a secret. That can also mean that social services or police have trouble tracing child abuse victims. The government wants to fix this problem by compelling hospitals to report the births of children.

    Another loophole is that only parents or blood relatives are allowed to give permission to conduct surgery on a child, which leads to problems when a child is orphaned or being fostered.

    France and Germany give cohabiting couples the same state benefits as married people. In France, cohabiting couples that sign a civil union or PACS can inherit each other's wealth without marriage and also get various tax and welfare benefits.

    But Korea is home to many born-again Christians who have typically resisted similar moves in the past. Others worry about benefit fraud.

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