South Korea maintains a strict policy of mandatory military service, which requires all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 28 to serve in the armed forces for about 18 to 21 months. However, there might be a new exemption to the rule. According to a report in TIME, authorities might exempt men from the mandatory service if they have three or more babies before they turn 30.
The move is seen as the South Korean government's effort to boost the nation's ailing birth rate. Last month, the country recorded the world's lowest fertility rate with the number falling to a new low.
On March 22, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that the ruling conservative People Power party is looking into unconventional means of increasing births. Though these plans have not been finalised, they are currently being reviewed.
Cho Kyu-suk, a coordinator at the Seoul-based Center for Military Human Rights in Korea, told TIME that the proposal would create an incentive for young men, and might also remove a barrier to more births.
However, the proposal to spare young fathers of three or more from service has received a lot of backlash. ''Are you encouraging teenagers to give birth?'' and ''Who would have three children to avoid going to the military?” internet users posted online, according to local media outlet Kukmin Ilbo.
Some also pointed out the unwanted costs that young people would have to incur if they plan on having a big family. Many experts also called the idea ''dangerous'' and ''laughable.''
Erin Hye-Won Kim, associate professor of public administration at the University of Seoul said, ''We cannot ask people to have babies for the national economic growth or the sustainability of the country—we shouldn't think of fertility as such a tool.''
Jeffrey Robertson, an associate professor from Yonsei University in Seoul, warned that the draft exemption policy could be dangerous. ''You're setting up a situation where young mothers are going to potentially be pushed into having children to allow a male to avoid military service,'' he said.
Meanwhile, fewer and fewer people in the country are tying the knot and embracing singlehood. Experts say there are multiple causes for the twin phenomenon of low marriage and birth rates, from high child-rearing costs and property prices to a notoriously competitive society that makes well-paid jobs difficult to secure.
The double burden for working mothers of carrying out the brunt of household chores and childcare while also maintaining their careers is another key factor, experts say.