Adoptee Solidarity Korea (ASK), a Korean adoptee organization, sponsored an afternoon symposium at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) about alternatives to intercountry (ICA) adoption with representatives from five NGOs on Friday, May 8.
The event, hosted together with the Korean Foster Care Association, the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, A-Ha! Sexuality Education Counseling Center, TacTeen and the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, was one in a weekend series held in conjunction with Adoption Day, advancing the idea of “having a day without adoption.”
May 11 was designated in 2006 to serve as a national day to promote and support domestic adoption in South Korea. In 2008, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family announced that domestic adoptions had surpassed international adoptions for the first time with 1,288 domestic adoptions and 1,264 international adoptions. According to the Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK), intercountry adoption accounts for the mass migration of up to 200,000 Korean children to over 15 different Western countries.
According to Kim Stoker, the ASK representative, “The majority of the children available for adoption, whether domestic or international, are from unwed mothers who must relinquish their children not out of choice, but out of necessity due to the lack of social welfare support combined with patriarchy, poverty, and social stigmatization.” Stoker said, “Let’s try to prevent adoption and create an alternative by supporting women‘s rights in South Korea where unwed mothers can keep their children.”
Kwon Hee-jung, a research fellow with the Women’s Culture and Theory Institute and coordinator of the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network who spoke at the NHRCK forum said development of women’s rights and questioning the construction of nuclear family model in South Korea has never gone much “beyond discussions revolving around the institution of marriage” and “thinking about reproductive rights was centered on conceiving or not conceiving, giving birth to a child or not.” She added that until recently, “there hasn’t been much consideration of a woman‘s rights to keep her own child, nor the child’s right to live with her natural family.”
Korean Foster Care Association President Park Young-sook said the South Korean government has just recently increased support for child-rearing unwed mothers last month, “from the 50,000 won per month allowance to 100,000 won.” Foster care families have been eligible to receive 65,000 won per month from the government, and according to stipulations in the adoption legislation, parents adopting domestically have also been eligible to receive financial support 100,000 won per month.
Kwon added that six new centers for unwed mothers have opened up around the country. In response to a suggestion from a member of the audience regarding building care centers near schools to support teenagers who have decided to carry their pregnancy to term and raise their children so they can finish their education, she estimates that there are less than 100 private-run care facilities for unwed mothers, unwed mothers and their babies, and mothers and their children who are economically suffering.
ASK said that while they had envisioned the forum as an opportunity to include adoption agencies whose mission also includes improving the social welfare support system and supporting children‘s rights to be raised with their natural families, the agencies had declined to participate. Jenny Na, cofounder and current ASK steering committee member said the purpose of the symposium was to explore how to “address root causes of adoption by providing sex education for young people, addressing sexual violence experienced among young women, supporting the alternative to intercountry adoption that currently exists like foster care and kinship care, and increasing support for unwed or single mothers.”
Lee Mi-jeong, a research fellow with the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI) who had spoken on March 4 at the 52nd Women‘s Policy Forum: “Improving Attitudes Toward unwed Mothers and promoting support” hosted by KWDI and National Assembly member Kim Kum-lae held at the Assembly Member’s Office Building also asks if adoption is the “solution to the plight of unwed mothers and their children.” Struck by the vocality of the Korean adoptee community residing in South Korea in contrast with the single and unwed mothers, she says that currently there are insufficient statistics available. She estimates that perhaps that while it is may be possible to track the numbers of unwed or single mothers who are receiving some type of single parent assistance, that it “may only represent 5 percent of the total number of single or unwed mothers.” Lee suggests that this might be due to attitudes in South Korea that have stigmatized unwed or single mothers, but she sees this changing as the government increases financial and service support.
Jane Jeong Trenka, the President of TRACK who attended Friday‘s forum and coordinated a puppet theater event on Sunday, says that currently there is a draft revising Korean adoption laws currently in circulation in the MHWF. Trenka said, “Revising adoption is not about the child-rearing choices of adoptive parents, either domestic or intercountry, but rather about a country trying to correct the discrimination against unwed mothers and the use of intercountry adoption as a solution to a domestic issue.” She has been told by officials at the MHWF’s Division of Child and Youth Welfare that it may go up to the National Assembly in October to be approved. Trenka says she is hoping for full language access to facilitate the participation of adoptees in upcoming public hearings reviewing the adoption law draft.
By way of concluding remarks, Stoker said, “While the government can make better policy and there can be an increase in real support offered in terms of shelter and funding, the attitude of the public also needs to change to make it permissible for single mothers to keep their children.”
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