Korea to campaign against ‘kid-free zones’ to boost plummeting birthrate

Bomi Yoon

A child draws a dragon at a kindergarten in Gwangju, Wednesday, ahead of the Year of the Dragon in 2024. Yonhap

A child draws a dragon at a kindergarten in Gwangju, Wednesday, ahead of the Year of the Dragon in 2024. Yonhap

Health ministry unveils results of inspections into increasing number of venues not open to children

By Lee Hae-rin

Korea will launch a campaign to reduce “kid-free zones” and foster a child-rearing-friendly culture in a bid to tackle the country’s plummeting fertility rate, the government announced, Thursday.

“If society becomes more kid-friendly, fewer people will avoid having children and business operations will become more sustainable,“ the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s First Vice Minister Lee Ki-il said in a press release.

Dubbed “kid-free zones,” hundreds of coffee shops, restaurants and exhibition areas that refuse entry to potential customers with children in tow so as to provide disturbance-free service to prioritized customers not in the presence of children have sprung up here in recent years.

The growing trend has sparked controversy for being counterproductive to Korea’s demographic crisis, in which the fertility rate dropped to a record-low of 0.7 children per woman in the third quarter this year from last year’s 0.78.

Through various online, YouTube and television campaigns, the health ministry will encourage parents to educate their children on how to behave in public and advise business owners to welcome customers accompanied by children.

Additionally, the campaign will encourage the public to be more generous with families accompanied by kids and to show patience when confronted with misbehaving children as they are learning about appropriate public manners.

In August, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) decided that restricting children from entering lounge areas at a department store was an act of age discrimination and recommended that the company enhance its operation policy.

Also, the youth representatives at the annual Children’s Assembly this year adopted a resolution calling for a ban on kid-free zones and delivered it to the government earlier this month.

Against this backdrop, the ministry carried out a nationwide poll of 205 out of 340 business owners across the country who identified their establishments as no-kids zones online and currently restrict entry to children. The remaining 135 refused to respond to the survey.

By type of establishment, coffee shops and bakeries were the most common at 76.1 percent, followed by restaurants at 18 percent and animal cafes at 3.9 percent.

As for the reasons they operate child-restricted zones, 68 percent of respondents said it is due to the concern that “business owners need to take full responsibility for accidents involving children in the establishment,” when multiple answers were allowed. Some 35 percent also said they fear “facing complaints from other customers because of misbehaving children.”

In order to cease age-defined restrictions on entry, and thus welcome customers accompanied by children, 71.4 percent called for “strengthening the responsibilities of parents for children’s misbehavior in public and raising public awareness in that regard.”

Others suggested giving business owners support money for liability insurance and remodeling to redesign their establishments to be more kid-friendly.

The ministry also held a focus group interview with parents.

Many agreed that children might misbehave in public but viewed the no-kids zone policy as discriminatory. Some said they can understand business owners for taking steps to restrict children from entering their establishments, based on their customers and experiences of children misbehaving.

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