Historic step for adoptee rights, adoptees urge full inclusion in adoption law revision process

Seoul, July 1, 2009 (TRACK) – Fifty overseas Korean adoptees and their allies participated in the second public hearing on the revision of South Korea’s civil and overseas adoption laws Wednesday at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family’s second public hearing sponsored by the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI). The discussion marked the first time in 56 years of international Korean adoption that overseas Korean adoptees represented their own interests in a governmental forum.

The ministry is revising both the laws on domestic adoption and intercountry adoption, called the “Special Adoption Law,” which has been amended nine times since its enactment in 1961, each time without adoptees or birth families as shareholders.

Adoptees were able to participate because professional simultaneous translation was provided by KWDI. The first public hearing held Feb. 26 did not include professional translation despite requests made by Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK), a nonprofit organization aimed at healing the relationship between adoptees and Korean society. The language barrier prevented 30 adoptees and supporters from speaking about the proposed law revisions.

Jane Jeong Trenka, president of TRACK, saw the provision of professional translation this time as a step in the right direction, but recommended that translation into both English and French be institutionalized by the government. “Any fair, democratic process on adoption law, as well as any just and humane adoption and social welfare policy about us must include us,” Trenka said. “We need translation every time. The adoptees did not create the language barrier.”

During the hearing’s open discussion, seven adoptees and supporters addressed Professor Huh Nam-Soon of Hallym University who leads the ministry’s research committee. Adoptees asked how the central authority will help them gain better access to their files, histories and original identities and questioned its objectivity. They also criticized the government for not creating a comprehensive social welfare system and for failing to include adoptees and single mothers in the creation, development, and discussion of the revisions.

Professors and professionals monitoring the law revisions process from overseas said in a solidarity statement read by TRACK, “We urge Korea to include the adoptees’ and mothers’ voices as equal partners in the creation, development, and discussion about Korea’s new adoption law.”

This public hearing was originally intended to be the last one before the ministry sends its suggested revisions to the adoption law to the National Assembly. However, after seeing the number of adoptees and supporters who turned out to voice their opinions, Park Sook-ja, director of the department in charge of adoptions within the ministry, announced that another public hearing might be necessary to further discuss adoptee and single mother concerns.

Since the 1950s, South Korea has sent away the largest number of children for international adoption in the world, with over 160,000 Korean children ending up in mainly 14 Western countries, according to government data. Although it is the longest-running international adoption program in the world, the country is not yet in compliance with international standards. It has yet to ratify the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and holds reservations to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for a full understanding of the practice of adoption, both past and present, to improve the human rights of children and families affected by adoption.

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