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Seven-year-old Ah-jeong twirls, her flowered hanbok — a traditional Korean dress — encircling her in a cloud of pink tulle and bedazzled shoes shimmering in the sunlight. She sings and laughs.

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Ah-jeong and her mum are not going to celebrate with family, but with a group of women and children who mostly, like them, have nowhere else to go. In a country where unwed mothers are derided and ostracised, this is more than a simple celebration.

In South Korea, Confucian culture and a hierarchical society mean that bloodlines play a dominant role in defining community. For ostracised single mothers, to be without family ties is to be a social outcast. Government statistics show there are about 25, single mothers in South Korea, a figure questioned by KUMFA and the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network who believe there are those who do not register due to fear of discrimination.

For Jeong, her most heartbreaking Seollal was the one she spent alone ineight months pregnant with Ah-jeong. Jeong had already split up with her boyfriend when she found out she was pregnant at He denied the baby was his and refused to support her. Crushed by shame, she was too scared to face her parents or seek outside help and ended up giving birth alone. Three days later, she reversed her decision, realising the only thing harder than being a single mother was not being a mother at all.

To regain custody, Jeong had to bring her parents to the agency to a consent form and pay a fee. Angry and humiliated, her father begrudgingly allowed Ah-jeong back into their family but demanded they keep her a secret. KUMFA was conceived of by a group of single mothers who, grappling with prejudice, reached out to each other online and decided to meet and formalise their community offline.

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When Tae-ho is bullied at school by classmates whose mothers have instructed them not to play with him, or who tease him for being without a father, he turns to his KUMFA friends, Kim said. To qualify, single mothers younger than 24 must earn less than South Korean won 1. This, advocates argue, disincentivises them from working fulltime. The day before the New Year, Jeong, Kim and other mothers had congregated with their kids at the Seoul Youth Hostel to kick off the festivities. Together, the mothers and kids walked through Namsan Hanok Village.

They took part in traditional Seollal games: yoonnori, played with sticks, a board and markers; and paengi, wooden tops twirled with whipcords.

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All around them, the usually frenetic city was hushed — traffic tamed, pedestrians sparse and many of the shops either shuttered or posting s listing reduced hours. For the mums and their kids, though, their little corner of the world was a joyous racket, but they all knew that the next morning, life would go back to normal. By Ann Babe. This year, around 30 single mums and their children are visiting from around and beyond Seoul. We deserve to be part of society. More from Features.

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