The proposed revisions to the adoption law of Korea are complex and almost impossible for the non-Korean speaking adoptees (including myself) to understand because of the language barrier that we are facing at the government level. Nevertheless, I will attempt to summarize the situation so far, to the best of my understanding. This article is being written without the aid of any official written information, as the government to date has refused to provide any written documents in English. Therefore, this article is based on conversations in April-May 2009 with the following people: Pastor Kim at KoRoot; Kwon Hee Jung, project coordinator of Korean Unwed Mothers’ Support Network (Dr. Boas’ group); and Assistant Director Lee Hee-Jeong and her boss, Deputy Director Park Chan-su at the Office for Child and Youth Policy in the Division of Child and Youth Welfare in the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs (MIHWAF). Lee Yewon, Sil Benkovic, and Song Dae-Han (who are not adoptees) have freely and generously bridged the language barrier for me, and I offer my gratitude to them for their friendship, unwavering patience, and commitment to the cause. This article is being circulated with the permission of the law revision group, including the lawyers.
The project to revise the law was started when the Ministry of Finance and Budget allocated 720 million won for a “central authority.” A central authority would have to put in place in order for South Korea to ratify the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
There are three areas of the law currently being examined: the domestic adoption law; the special adoption law for international adoption; and proposed ratification of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
The Ministry of Justice is currently conducting research to see what it would take to ratify the Hague convention. Their research will be completed at the end of the year, and it could be used in the law revisions. However, the MIHWAF does not think the Hague will be ratified this year.
Although the budget ministry allocated money to the MIHWAF to make the central authority, the MIHWAF figured out a way to make the central authority or “central information center” without changing any laws.It will be created in a civil capacity instead of a government capacity (meaning it will not be a real government agency). The board that will create this is made up of about a dozen people from the field of adoption, including the agencies and some professors. The main task of this body will be information-keeping. However, the central authority will not take all of the records of the adoption agencies (the MIHWAF said there are too many records to take them all). In addition, MIHWAF said that the adoptees will not get any more information than they already do from their agencies. So basically there is no change anticipated in the amount of information that adoptees will be allowed to have. The emphasis seems to be on the privacy and secrecy of the birthmother as opposed to the right of the adoptee to identity.
Professor Huh Nam-soon’s survey and research was commissioned by the MIHWAF. Her mid-term report came out at the public hearing in February 26, and the final report was accessed belatedly by Pastor Kim at the ministry April 13. There has been no public hearing since the first one in February. Huh’s research is a recommendation to the government, but she does not make the law, and it is unclear exactly how much of her recommendations the MIHWAF wants to apply to its bill.
Current state of the bill
There is currently a draft bill in circulation in the ministry. No one knows at this time what is in that bill, as the public is not allowed to see it. However, it is considered to be separate from Prof. Huh’s recommendations. The draft law must next pass through a government body that cross-checks proposed laws. When it is approved, it will become public, and it will be posted on the MIHWAF Web site for 30 days. After that, President Lee Myung-bak will approve it at a Cabinet meeting around June or July. At that time the public can officially give feedback. However, we were told by the MIHWAF people that at that time, it will be too late to change the content. Therefore, Lee Hee-jung at the MIHWAF said that anyone can send her email now (firstname.lastname@example.org) with concerns or recommendations on the law. She said there is no other official process. This, however, is rather difficult because nobody knows what is in the proposed law!! The law will go to the National Assembly in October to be approved.
In June or July there may or may not be another public hearing on the law, and there may also be a seminar on adoption. This seminar would be about adoption in general, not the law. The MIHWAF seemed willing to provide translation and interpretation at the seminar, but not the public hearing on legal matters. The MIHWAF said that they are not bound by law to provide translation and interpretation, although they noted TRACK’s request to provide it for the adoptees. They said they may consider English, but they would not consider French or any of the other adoptee languages such as German or Dutch. We were told by a worker who was translating for us at the MIHWAF that day that the government does have a budget for translation and interpretation, so TRACK will continue to push on this access issue. Lee Hee-Jeong from the MIHWAF was at the first public hearing and she agreed that professional translation is necessary.
The MIHWAF has until now lacked a unified system of laws and policies. Support for unwed mothers and adoption policies have been handled separately. Pastor Kim had suggested earlier that the system be unified and indeed it looks like the government is now trying to go that route. The MIHWAF would not reveal details during our meeting on April 28, but they said to check the ministry Web site for changes around May 1. As of May 14, this page on the ministry’s English site was under construction, but Pastor Kim said the ministry’s Korean-language Web site has been updated. Park Chan-su was set to have his post changed on May 1, but Lee Hee-Jeong will still be working in the same capacity.
Meanwhile, the coalition of TRACK KoRoot and ASK will proceed with our own version of a bill that is a response to the current law and Prof. Huh’s recommendations. The Gonggam Public Interest lawyers (So Rami and Hwang Pillgyu) are drafting this bill and we will have a final paper ready in June addressing both domestic and international adoption. At this time the content is not yet settled, as we await a translation on the comparison of the existing laws and Prof. Huh’s recommendations. We intend to bring our bill to National Assembly through a lawmaker in September. If you have concerns or feedback regarding the law changes, please email TRACK at email@example.com.
No plan to end international adoption
Although there were plans in place at one time to end the international adoption program by 2012 under the last MIHWAF minister, those plans have been scrapped under the new minister. Therefore, there is no specific plan at this time to end international adoption from Korea.
In addition, there are already international adoptions from other countries to Korea happening. These adoptions are mainly Korean men who have married women from other countries in Asia, and who are bringing the children of their new wives to Korea. As you probably know, the rate of “international marriages” in Korea, especially in the countryside, is skyrocketing. However, there is no intercountry adoption to Korea from other countries on a mass scale as of now. It could become a reality if the Hague convention is ratified, but as I stated above, that probably won’t happen this year.
The process to understand the law revisions has been very challenging as we are working through the language barrier and limited transparency. Even when we can understand the law on a language level, the law seems to be like a bunch of hastily applied Band-aids instead of a unified, working system of family welfare. Nevertheless, we continue on because we now have a chance to try to push the government in a different direction. If nothing else, our stubborn presence in the activity around the law revisions forces the government to see that the adoptees do want to be involved in processes that affect our lives, and that if we are to call South Korea a democracy, our voices must be heard and accounted for, and language access is only the starting point.
The coalition of the Gonggam lawyers, KoRoot, ASK, and TRACK will work hard to gather information and keep you up-to-date on the state of the law revisions.
Written by Jane Jeong Trenka for TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea)