Korea Times Staff Reporter
Dozens of Korean adoptees joined forces
last Thursday to ask the South Korean government to address the problems of
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.
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
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.
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
But adoption agencies say the policies have ignored reality
in focusing on increasing the rate of domestic adoptions.
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