Dis­crim­i­na­tion vs rights over no-kids zones

The Korea Times - - FEATURE - (Yon­hap)

Search­ing metic­u­lously for must-go, hip places to ex­pe­ri­ence fine din­ing or re­lax over a cup of cof­fee is a rit­ual prac­ticed by many peo­ple be­fore go­ing out.

Be­fore rush­ing out brim­ming over with an­tic­i­pa­tion, how­ever, there’s one more cru­cial step for those ac­com­pa­nied by chil­dren so as not to waste time: check­ing if they are al­lowed in with their lit­tle ones.

This is par­tic­u­larly true in Seoul’s trendy neigh­bor­hoods and in key tourist des­ti­na­tions like Jeju Is­land, as a grow­ing num­ber of such places — whether high-qual­ity or low-end — are adopt­ing poli­cies bar­ring chil­dren, caus­ing heated ar­gu­ments and ac­ri­mony be­tween staff and in­dig­nant par­ents.

“I and my four-year-old girl did noth­ing wrong ex­cept to try set­ting foot on the premises af­ter I missed the sign at the en­trance that says, ‘No chil­dren un­der 10,’” grum­bled Hong Jae-seon, 36, shar­ing her bad mem­o­ries of be­ing treated “like a nui­sance” at a cafe on Jeju that boasts a stun­ning coastal view.

“Upon be­ing de­nied, I au­to­mat­i­cally told the worker that my daugh­ter is not rowdy. But I felt I was de­fend­ing my girl for no rea­son. They just made us feel like peo­ple not abid­ing by set rules, which is just un­fair,” she sighed.

Lee Jeong-min, a 40-year-old free­lance trans­la­tor, also com­plained that she felt “ridiculed when she and her two boys were re­jected at a Jeju restau­rant,” claim­ing that the shop did not even post a no­tice, ap­par­ently out of con­cern that such an ex­plicit child ban may hurt its im­age.

“I fully un­der­stand why they en­force a no-child pol­icy, as I’m no stranger to un­ruly kids in pub­lic places. But such a pre­emp­tive, uni­ver­sal boy­cott seems ex­ces­sive,” she said. The mother then claimed that such anti-child poli­cies would fur­ther dampen peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to have kids in the coun­try al­ready suf­fer­ing from a falloff in new­borns.

Though no of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics are avail­able, at least 400 busi­ness en­ti­ties are be­lieved to have of­fi­cially adopted adult-only poli­cies, ac­cord­ing to some ac­tivists and web sites that trace rel­e­vant data. Given that a num­ber of shop own­ers turn away cus­tomers with chil­dren without dis­play­ing no­tices, the real num­ber may be greater.

In Novem­ber last year, the Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion of Korea (NHRCK) judged that the es­tab­lish­ment of no-kids zones con­sti­tutes a vi­o­la­tion of the right to equal­ity, call­ing for “the elim­i­na­tion of such a dis­crim­i­na­tory busi­ness prac­tice.”

It was in re­sponse to a pe­ti­tion filed by a fa­ther af­ter be­ing turned away by an Ital­ian restau­rant on Jeju when he vis­ited with his three kids.

In re­gards to the de­ci­sion, the NHRCK cited Clause 11 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which bans any dis­crim­i­na­tion based on gen­der, re­li­gion or so­cial sta­tus. It more­over pointed to the U.N. Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child which stip­u­lates, “No child should be treated un­fairly on any ba­sis.”

The restau­rant owner, how­ever, coun­tered that he had “valid” rea­sons, say­ing the prac­tice is un­avoid­able if he wants to run his busi­ness.

“Ba­si­cally, it is for the sake of the chil­dren’s safety,” he told the rights watch­dog, cit­ing his past ex­pe­ri­ence of a kid who was in­jured while play­ing near a stone wall around his build­ing. The par­ents, he said, then de­manded com­pen­sa­tion. His iden­tity was with­held by the NHRCK.

Cit­ing sev­eral other un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dents, such as dam­age to prop­erty by young vis­i­tors and fre­quent un­ruly be­hav­ior that sparked com­plaints from other cus­tomers, the store owner said he de­cided to not wel­come peo­ple with chil­dren start­ing in March last year, nearly four years af­ter open­ing his busi­ness.

His stance is shared by many shop own­ers and ser­vice work­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by Al­ba­mon, a re­cruit­ment web­site for part-timers, 84.3 per­cent of the 1,268 part-time hos­pi­tal­ity work­ers ques­tioned said they ex­pe­ri­enced in­con­ve­nience due to cus­tomers with young chil­dren, and 60 per­cent said they were in fa­vor of the child ban.

“I do like kids and I have two neph­ews who are su­per cute, but I don’t want to be dis­tracted by some mis­be­hav­ing chil­dren or wail­ing ba­bies,” said Jeong Yeon-soo, a 28-year-old pi­ano in­struc­tor in Seoul.

“The other day, I saw a mom who just laid her baby down on a cafe chair and changed her di­a­per. She then took her cell phone out to play baby songs on YouTube that ef­fec­tively ru­ined the serene at­mos­phere,” she said.

Some par­ents also wel­come the move.

“Rather than pay­ing too much at­ten­tion to oth­ers out of con­cern that my kids would be­come their pet peeve, not go­ing to places they deny ad­mit­tance from the out­set may be far bet­ter,” Kim Ah-ram said with a bit­ter smile.

“Along with the in­crease in no-kids zones, I have been able to find more ‘yes-kids’ shops these days that pro­mote their child-friendly fa­cil­i­ties, such as a nurs­ing room and an in­door play­ground,” said Kim, a pri­mary school teacher and mom of three girls.

With the con­tro­versy over ban­ning chil­dren show­ing no signs of dy­ing down, ex­perts have started to urge a shift in view­point when deal­ing with the is­sue.

“I doubt if it is proper to see this as a mat­ter of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness or in­cor­rect­ness,” said lawyer Yang Hong-seok.

“Usu­ally, be­ing po­lit­i­cally cor­rect in­volves chal­lenges by the weak against the strong, but the re­jec­tion of young chil­dren can­not tech­ni­cally be seen as this kind of strug­gle,” Yang said, claim­ing that such fram­ing could rather make things worse.

An­other lawyer, who re­fused to be iden­ti­fied, said, “Af­ter all, the rights watch­dog’s ci­ta­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion is not 100 per­cent cor­rect in this case, as that rule reg­u­lates re­la­tions be­tween the state and the peo­ple, not be­tween in­di­vid­u­als.”

Last year’s de­ci­sion by the rights watch­dog was the first of­fi­cial state­ment by a state in­sti­tu­tion in South Korea touch­ing on the is­sue, but it is not legally bind­ing and no ad­min­is­tra­tive mea­sures or court rul­ings on the mat­ter ac­tu­ally ex­ist.

“Ad­min­is­tra­tive re­stric­tions can­not be the so­lu­tion here,” the lawyer said, not­ing that a pri­vate busi­nessper­son’s pol­icy of ban­ning chil­dren “is not meant to tar­get the kids but par­ents who fail to con­trol their off­spring.”

Cit­ing a grow­ing in­tol­er­ance of oth­ers as a key un­der­ly­ing rea­son for this con­flict, pro­fes­sor Lee Taek-gwang at Seoul’s Kyunghee Uni­ver­sity voiced con­cerns about a pos­si­ble spill-over ef­fect.

“We should look at the fact that the de­bate has in­ten­si­fied, along with a grow­ing dis­dain for moms who are some­times called ‘mom­chung,’” he said, re­fer­ring to a deroga­tory term for moth­ers who use their chil­dren as an ex­cuse to dis­re­spect oth­ers.

“If such words pop up to in­cite out­rage, other sim­i­lar types of re­stric­tions could be­come jus­ti­fied and com­mon­place,” Lee said, cit­ing a re­cent emer­gence of shops that ban se­nior cit­i­zens.

“We need to fo­cus on rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness, un­der­stand­ing and due moral and so­cial obli­ga­tions to find so­lu­tions,” he said, call­ing for pol­icy sup­port to min­i­mize in­con­ve­nience on both sides of the ar­gu­ment.

Korea Times file

A mother and a child are seen read­ing a mes­sage on a door that says “No chil­dren” in this Septem­ber 2018 file photo, show­ing one as­pect of so­ci­ety that is closed off to moth­ers with young chil­dren.

Yon­hap

A fa­mous cafe in Itae­won, Seoul, dis­plays a sign ban­ning chil­dren un­der 12.

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