Programme is for people aged between nine and 24 who are experiencing extreme social withdrawal
South Korea is to offer reclusive youths a monthly living allowance of 650,000 won ($490) in order to encourage them out of their homes, as part of a new measure passed by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The measure also offers education, job and health support.
The condition is known as “hikikomori”, a Japanese term that roughly translated means, “to pull back”. The government wants to try to make it easier for those experiencing it to leave the house to go to school, university or work.
Included in the programme announced this week, which expands on measures announced in November, is a monthly allowance for living expenses for people aged between nine and 24 who are experiencing extreme social withdrawal. It also includes an allowance for cultural experiences for teenagers.
About 350,000 people between the ages of 19 and 39 in South Korea are considered lonely or isolated – about 3% of that age group – according to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
Secluded youth are often from disadvantaged backgrounds and 40% began living reclusively while adolescents, according to a government document outlining the measures.
The document includes case studies that describe young people using reclusiveness as a way to cope with setbacks in their family lives. One young person describes their depression as a result of domestic violence. “When I was 15 years old, domestic violence made me depressed so much that I began to live in seclusion. A lethargic person who sleeps most of the time or has no choice but to eat when hungry and go back to sleep.”
Another said that they had become a recluse when their family “went bankrupt”.
The new measures aim to strengthen government support “to enable reclusive youth to recover their daily lives and reintegrate into society”, the government said in a statement.
Among the other types of support are paying for the correction of affected people’s physical appearance, including scars “that adolescents may feel ashamed of”, as well as helping with school and gym supplies.
South Korea also has a relatively high rate of youth unemployment, at 7.2%, and is trying to tackle a rapidly declining birthrate that further threatens productivity.
“This policy is fundamentally a welfare measure,” Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University in Seoul, told Bloomberg. “While it’s good to try various approaches to boost working-age population, it cannot be seen as a long-term solution to fix the population problem here”.
President Yoon Suk-yeol last month declared the birth rate a “crucial national agenda”.
This year South Korea became the only country in the world with a fertility rate of below one, with women having an average of 0.78 children. Many of the reasons behind women choosing not to have children are economic: the high cost of raising children, an economic slowdown, limited job prospects and the rising cost of housing.