|Rep. Jasmine Lee, right, of the ruling Saenuri Party applauds while participants are introduced during a public hearing on a bill to protect undocumented foreign children at the National Assembly Members' Office building in Seoul, Thursday. / Korea Times photo by Jun Ji-hye|
Jasmine Lee calls for passage of bill
By Jun Ji-hye
Rep. Jasmine Lee of the ruling Saenuri Party called on rival lawmakers, Thursday, to pass a bill to protect fundamental rights of undocumented foreign children, saying passage was not a choice, but a must in a global village.
"Many developed countries such as the United States and Japan have already set up laws to provide unregistered foreign children with essential benefits," said the Philippines-born lawmaker.
She plans to submit the bill to legislate a foreign children protection law before June.
"It is regrettable that South Korea, which ratified the United Nations convention on the rights of the child in 1991, has yet to draw up substantial measures," she said.
Lee made the remarks at an open forum to discuss why the law should be passed and what should be included.
She stressed that creating an environment where foreign children can receive education, health services and other essential rights in the country they were born in will be one of the most significant tasks for Seoul to comply with a promise to international society.
Kim Joon-sik, chairman of Asian Friends, explained those born to immigrants overstaying their visas are not allowed to be registered, and so remain stateless.
"These children are officially non-existent in this country, experiencing difficulties in almost all social areas. It is very shameful for a country that produced the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon," said Kim.
Hwang Pil-gyu, a human rights lawyer, claimed that prohibition of discrimination should be the basic principle of the law.
"The nation has yet to establish a birth registration system for babies of undocumented parents," said Hwang. "They are not even able to receive school attendance notifications from local offices, which are automatically issued to those who have registration numbers, and become old enough to attend elementary school."
Along with guaranteeing birth registration which will enable them to exercise their right to education and health, the lawyer also suggested protecting such children from compulsory deportation and guaranteeing their right to live with their family.
Notably, Rep. Park Young-sun of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy who chairs the National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee, the last path before bills are put to a vote by the full body, attended the forum, saying she was concerned over the severity of the problem.
Currently, unregistered foreign children are not able to benefit from national health insurance.
Education is the only area that was revised to allow unregistered children to attend school some extent. A revised version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Law allows them to attend elementary and secondary schools, but they must present a rental agreement proving that they live in the area, or the "village head" must speak on their behalf.
Hwang said, however, this is an insufficient measure, given that those with registration numbers are automatically given the right to attend school.
Follow Jun Ji-hye on Twitter @TheKopJihye