Korea Urged to Write New Chapter for Adoption

Kim Tae-jong

Korea Times Staff Reporter

Dozens of Korean adoptees joined forces
last Thursday to ask the South Korean government to address the problems of
overseas adoption.

They formed an organization as a first step to call
for a transparent inquiry and a full understanding of the adoption issue, both
past and present in Korea, which has been dubbed as a “country exporting
babies.” Since the 1950s, the country has sent more than 150,000 children to
live with Western families.

“It is an attempt to help adoptees and
Korean society understand each other,” said Han Boon-young, chief executive
general of Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK).
“It is also for healing relations between adoptees and Korean society.”

TRACK aims to comprehensively address the issue of international
adoption at a national level and reveal the problems in the adoption program so
that the rights of Korean children and families will be better preserved in the
future, she said.

“Such efforts will also rectify and reconcile the
past to create a bright collective future for adoptees overseas,” she said.

Exporting babies

As of 2006, 227,983 Korean babies have
been adopted. Among them, 159,044, or 69.8 percent, had new families in foreign
countries, while Korean families here have adopted 68,939 children.

claims adoptees overseas might be as high as 200,000, considering those who have
been adopted privately and have not been recorded in government

Consequently, the massive number has often drawn criticism
that the country has “exported” babies to Western countries. Adoption agencies
can earn up to 20 million won arrangement fees when they find a child a new home
overseas while domestic adoption earns them less than 2 million won.

Many civic groups also claim that a large number of babies were sent
overseas for adoption without their mothers’ consent and some child placement
agencies in the past used fraudulent documents in order to get children adopted

Adoptee Solidarity Korea (ASK) is an organization campaigning for
an end to adoption overseas.

“We’re not trying to stop inter-country
adoption right now,” Jenny Na, a member of ASK said. “At the moment, there are
no programs for single mothers or underprivileged families. But we want to offer
them an option for them to keep their kids.”

Given the economic status
of Korea, it should make an effort to create a proper social welfare system to
take care of its children, not to simply send them to overseas families, she
said. “People should also know adoption is an issue of human rights.”

Reacting to the mounting criticism, the government has already promised
to end international adoptions from Korea in the next three to four

The government has also offered various incentives to encourage
domestic adoption.

From last year, single people were able to adopt
children as the number of single person households has steadily increased,
accounting for 16 percent of the total as of 2007.

The age of adoptive
parents has been also raised to 60 from 50 in the past.

Dilemmas in
international adoption

The Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family
Affairs last year proudly announced that more adopted children were placed in
Korea than overseas.

The ministry reported families living in Korea
adopted 724 children in the first half of last year, 59 percent of the total
1,223. During the previous five years, the domestic adoption rate was less than
40 percent.

But adoption agencies say the policies have ignored reality
in focusing on increasing the rate of domestic adoptions.

“Our priority
is to find babies new homes at very early ages,” said an official from one of
the four major inter-country adoption agencies. “We try hard, but it is almost
impossible to find them new homes domestically.”

The official said that
most Korean families are reluctant to embrace male babies and babies with
disabilities, and so overseas adoptions are the last option for them before they
are sent to an orphanage.

She criticized that the increase in domestic
adoption was only possible because of a new law that gave Korean parents
priority for the first five months after children were put up for adoption. No
international adoption was allowed in that period.

“We agree with the
necessity of domestic adoption and various incentive programs. But who should be
first considered in the adoption? Isn’t it the baby? All the policies only aim
at deregulating procedures in adoption but what if disqualified parents adopt a
baby?” she said.

Journey to find their roots

The issue of
adoption has recently drawn people’s attention but little of that has been given
to Korea adoptees sent to other countries. Some have made a lonely journey by
themselves to discover the “missing part” of their life.

“It’s like a
mystery,” said Sara Schultzer, 28, who was adopted by a family from the United
States. “You don’t really know anything about Korea and its culture and your
parents also don’t know much.”

She joined a Korean culture camp for
adoptees in America but it was only a taste of Korean culture and didn’t satisfy
her. But it was not easy for her to come to Korea alone and experience what the
country is like.

But she was finally able to visit Korea and experience
Korean culture, thanks to a “Welcome Home” program by the Korean adoption
agency Social Welfare Society (SWS).

“I had a wonderful time here. It
was more tangible experience, allowing me to understand Korea better,” she
recalled. “I know the selection and funding is difficult but I wish more
adoptees could have more chances like this.”

Not only to find a home
for babies but to offer adoptees chances to learn about Korea are important, she



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2 Responses to Korea Urged to Write New Chapter for Adoption

  1. Melissa K says:

    I am a 33-year old Korean-American adoptee living in the United States. I was born in Seoul in 1975, and adopted by a Caucasian American family at about 6 months old through what was the David Livingstone Program & Korea Christian Crusade, now Dillon International & the Eastern Social Welfare Society.

    Over the past several years I have slowly but surely become more active in my reading and research regarding the adoption experience and adoption community.

    I am encouraged by the efforts of Korean society to cultivate and “normalize” domestic adoption in Korea. However, I am disturbed by the goal to eradicate inter-country adoption.

    As a product of international adoption, I can honestly say that I am grateful that I was adopted by my American family. Due to the cultural stigmas surrounding unwed birth mothers & their children, I know that I was afforded so much more opportunity not only materially but psychologically, emotionally, and socially than I would have received had I stayed in Korea.

    Now, I will say that if I could change anything about my adoption circumstances, I wish that contact with my birth mother and/or birth father and access to information regarding my birth history and family were not so elusive and secret. I do find this aspect of my adoption experience incredibly frustrating and discouraging. There are certain elements of Korean culture that affect my adoption experience very negatively and extensively. At times, I truly must fight in my heart to have understanding, so that I do not to find myself embittered toward Korean culture and society.

    I realize that complex factors contribute to such circumstances, and that is in part, what people like those of TRACK & ASK are working to ameliorate. I completely support such efforts.

    However, to completely eradicate the opportunity or possibility for international adoption frightens me and concerns me for the orphans that such a decision directly affects.

    2012 seems too soon to execute such a policy. The burden of the cultural stigmas surrounding Korean unwed birth mothers and their children are still so heavy and still so intertwined within the fabric of Korean society.

    Again, I admire and appreciate the efforts of people such as those involved in TRACK. But each adoptee’s experiences and perspectives are individual and vary widely. To think that one idea is best for all those involved seems a bit immature and presumptuous.

    My husband and I have talked before about the possibility of adopting from Korea. However, it is not likely that we will be able to so before 2012, by which we, as Americans, will be shut out. I find this discouraging personally, and incredibly myopic on Korea’s part and those involved in designing such a policy.

    Again, I fully support the efforts to help Korean adoptees remain connected to their origins and culture. I, myself, long so much to connect more deeply with my origins, and I make great efforts to do so through language classes, reading, researching, etc. I also think that helping Korean society to undo the negativity and marginalization surrounding unwed birth mothers and their children is admirable and well overdue!

    However, to close yet another door of opportunity for the speechless and powerless orphans involved by outlawing foreign adoption hurts my heart for them and quite honestly enrages me.

    It seems like yet another wreckless adherence to the Korean cultural precedence of “saving face.” If Koreans truly cared more for the well-being of these orphans than about saving face & honor, then, in my small opinion, all that would matter is that these beautiful children find loving homes, no matter in what country or with what race or ethnicity.

    I know that culture is a powerful force, often difficult to overcome or see beyond, but truly, what is best for these orphans? In an ideal and perfect world, such dire situations would be absent. But since we do not live in such a world, it would seem that the more opportunity and possibilities available to these precious children to find loving homes would take precedence over the desire to keep them in the hands of Koreans. These are children, not manufactured goods or services.

    Again, I am not against domestic adoptions in Korea. Kudos! That’s incredibly encouraging and inspiring that more and more Korean families are adopting Korean children. That only makes logical sense. However, again, to shut the door on other opportunities for these children to find families and homes seems hurtful and ultimately, not in the best interest of these orphans.

    Why must it be such an extreme of either/or? Why not keep all options available, including both international & domestic adoptions, while continuing to work toward the de-stigmatization of unwed birth mothers and their children?

    I realize I am only one person, one small voice in a mob of loud, strong voices. But as an adult Korean adoptee, I had to at least take this opportunity to express my small, yet still valid opinion.

  2. Edwina Koonce says:

    Every child is at birth a precious link in the human chain. The government of South Korea must ensure that support is adequate for all its children to develop in dignity and good health. By each precious link, will the chain become strong. May it be so for children of single parents and unwed mothers. Those babies are precious.

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