Condoms as a lucky charm

The FT’s Seoul correspondent, Anna Fifield, had a busy week last week. Head office would have been wanting her to divine what is going on in the brains of the DPRK’s leadership – not an easy task, and everyone’s got something to say on the subject. Fifield’s piece in Saturday’s FT was one of the more interesting contributions to the debate last week, made all the more distinctive by devoting the first two paragraphs of her article to my favourite US film of 2004, Team America – World Police.

I’m not going to quote from her article because to pick out one article on last week’s events out over so many is a bit unrepresentative, and also because I don’t want to get into too much trouble with the FT’s copyright police.

While beavering away on her thinkpiece on the DPRK, and doing a story on the soju business (which I missed in the hard copy FT because I don’t read it during the week; and because I don’t subscribe to FT.com I only have access to the first two paragraphs) Fifield was also polishing up a fascinating article on Korean family planning policy. I’m worried that Fifield seems to be given free rein to write up all sorts of interesting stuff. She must be a favoured writer, which is surely bad news: some time soon she’s going to be promoted and hauled back to head office.

Her piece on family planning is based around an interview with Shin Dong-jin. In the Park Chung-hee era he was involved in the efforts to introduce family planning methods to rural Korea. The average number of children per mother was 4.53, and it was Shin’s job to explain the economic damage this high birth rate was likely to have on Korea. Clearly, the demonstration of condom use was difficult, and demonstration using a stick was taken rather too literally:

One day I went to a village and there were these condoms hanging on the fence posts. So I asked why they were there. The woman replied that after they had finished doing ‘what married people do’, they had put the condoms on the sticks as contraception. At that time, people were very spiritual so they thought it was some kind of Buddhist good fortune tag or something

There was also the problem with communicating that it was the women, not the men, who had to take the pills.

Shin was rather too successful, and the fertility rate has now dropped to 1.08. So he’s now in charge of the programme which aims to encourage people to get married and have more children. His first challenge is with his own daughter.

The government is planning to spend 30 trillion won on this programme over the next 5 years. And that’s not a typo – I checked. 30 billion dollars, 19 billion sterling, or thereabouts. That’s a lot of investment in getting the birthrate back up. And, as Shin says,

when we say ‘let’s do something’, we’ll do it.

Anyway, here’s a link to the article. I’d love to quote the whole lot but I think that might be asking for trouble.

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