The ghost baby incident, ostensibly a deeply dark horror story, is actually a socioeconomic event.
The reason is this. During a routine inspection of the Ministry of Social Welfare by the Korean Audit Office, a problem was discovered. There were 2236 children with only hospital birth records but no subsequent birth declarations.
It needs to be explained that according to the Korean system, medical institutions are obliged to report the birth of a baby to the local government, and parents must apply for household registration to the local government within one month of the baby’s birth. The so-called “ghost babies” are the kind where the hospital declares the birth of the baby, but the parents of the child keep silent.
What does more than 2,000 babies mean to South Korea?
I have seen a data that the total number of newborns in South Korea in 2022 will be only 249,000. That is to say, more than 2,000 babies have reached 1/10 of the babies born in South Korea every month. This is already quite an astonishing proportion, and the relevant departments of South Korea also attach great importance to it. Therefore, 1% of the ghost children were sampled and checked. Little did they know that this move revealed a rather terrifying side of Korean society.
Two of the 23 respondents pointed to the same woman in Suwon. But she was quite resistant during the investigation and refused investigators to approach her home.
Therefore, the Suwon government had to hand over the investigation to the police. Problems arose—the police forcefully searched the lady’s address and found the bodies of two babies wrapped in black plastic bags in the refrigerator. They were a girl and a boy. The older sister was born in 2018 and the younger brother was born in 2019.
And the one who killed the babies was their mother—the lady we mentioned earlier.
So, is this mother a legendary demon? There is indeed a very small probability that there will be extremely anti-social individuals in human society.
If you think that way, though, keep things simple.
The woman who strangled her child twice was actually a mother of five. This fact serves as evidence for two things—first, that she is not a baby-killing demon; and second, that her instinctive love for human young is probably rather blunted.
Why kill two babies? The reason is simple, no money. The lady didn’t have a job, and her husband didn’t have a high income, so he really didn’t have the strength to accept another child into their life.
In this case, you may ask, in this case, why didn’t she just kill the child after pregnancy, but waited for the child to be born before murdering, which is obviously more costly and involves crime.
In any case, killing people is a very excessive practice-but this method has its rationality in some stages in South Korea.
Abortion was illegal in South Korea from the late 1950s until 2020. With economic development, the South Korean government has long been aware of the threat of the gradual decline in the birth rate to the social economy, so it has devised more and more ways to increase the birth rate of Koreans, and the ban on abortion is one of the main ones.
In the era when abortion was banned, Korean women had to give birth to a child if they were pregnant beyond a certain age. Otherwise, pregnant women will be fined or even punished. And medical institutions that provide abortion services for pregnant women will face more severe penalties.
If a pregnant woman is forced to have an abortion, they need to find underground channels, and the cost is quite expensive. The mother who killed the baby actually had an abortion through underground channels in 2017. The cost of nearly 40,000 yuan made her choose to take other measures when the same situation happened in the second year—she was embarrassed to ask her husband for extra the money. Delivering the baby in the hospital, then bringing the baby home and strangling him becomes a low-cost solution to unwanted babies.
There is another detail in this case, that is, did the father of the two children participate in the infanticide? The police were suspicious at first. But after examining the couple’s electronic communication records, police determined that the husband knew nothing about his wife’s infanticide. But it’s equally horrific, the wife leaving with a big belly and coming home with a flat stomach while the person sleeping next to her doesn’t feel anything at all.
And that refrigerator. The refrigerator was not very big, and the bodies of the two children were wrapped in black plastic bags and stuffed in the freezer, and the family had moved house for a few years, but no one found out—this probably shows that this Korean family living at the bottom of the economy, The lives of the members have been “objectified”, and everyone is not interested in or curious about anything other than the necessities of life.
After the Suwon infanticide incident was exposed, the South Korean government increased the scope of the investigation. Soon another 34 ghost children were confirmed dead, and most of them were killed by their biological parents. There are roughly two reasons why parents do not accept these children, one is financial constraints, and the other is that the baby is found to have some defects after birth, and they prefer to have a healthy newborn. However, the most important reason for choosing to kill babies is the ban on abortion, or the high cost of abortion-the ban on abortion was abolished after 2020, but South Korea’s threshold for allowing abortion is still very high, so the cost remains high.
So the whole society has paid a high moral cost to ban the abortion bill, has it saved South Korea’s birth rate?
It’s a pity that it didn’t. In the past 50 years, the birth rate of South Korea has dropped by 75%.
Economist Samuelson first proposed the economic concept of “fallacy of composition”. To put it simply, in the economic society, rational decision-making for individuals may be counterproductive for the entire population.
Sometimes this problem can also be viewed in reverse. It seems to be a rational decision on the whole, but it seems irrational to the individual. Anti-abortion laws in South Korea to increase fertility rates are probably an example of this.
After 2016, just like many economies that have gradually become richer, mainland China has also begun to experience a gradual decline in the birth rate and the number of newborns. The policy designs that promote population growth have jumped out. However, if you analyze them in detail, these designs can be roughly divided into two categories, one is ineffective, and the other is more terrifying and possibly harmful.
Among the policy suggestions, the most is probably to give a large amount of economic subsidies to newborn families. In fact, judging from the historical experience of other developed economies, almost all childbirth subsidies are ineffective in reversing the decline in the fertility rate. This is probably because the limited economic compensation is not enough to hedge their overall economic loss from the perspective of people of childbearing age.
So how about increasing the subsidy until it exceeds the threshold of people? This is probably worse. In addition to the extremely high cost to the government, that is, taxpayers, it is even more problematic to generate a large amount of moral hazard. For example, huge financial subsidies will make stealing other people’s newborns a more lucrative business. Or, just like the Korean ghost child incident, families who have children for profit, in order to reduce operating costs, have profit motives for infanticide.
The introduction of a social norm often requires the follow-up of many supporting measures in order to achieve the desired effect. The formation process of social public order and good customs is quite complicated. When decision-makers want to adjust the overall operation of society, they need to be very careful in making decisions-wish is not easy to achieve.