In Korea, no such thing

We have noticed when talking with foreigners that they assume that Korea’s system is just like theirs. Because they lack a basic understanding of how underdeveloped the Korean system is compared to theirs, it’s hard for them to get a foothold and understand what we are talking about. Therefore, we made this chart to first acknowledge what most people from developed countries assume is normal. Then we move on to describing the bleak reality of Korea.

Feature Other developed countries

O = have it


X = no such thing

Universal birth registration O The hospital birth certificate is a legal document or birth registration is confirmed by another office such as a government agency. It is recognized that birth registration is a child’s human right. X Parents are compelled by law to register the birth of a child. However, it is a voluntary “registering” system, not a true reporting system. All the responsibility is placed on one person. Married and unmarried parents, both men and women, are obligated to register their children. The hospital birth certificate is more like a souvenir with no legal force. Birth registration is not available for non-Korean citizens except through their own countries’ embassies.


Effect in Korea: Children’s rights can easily be fundamentally violated. There is some confusion among foreigners about the “family register” because adoption agencies use that term instead of “birth registration.” However, what are really talking about is birth registration. It is possible to falsely register adopted or brokered children as the biological children of domestic adoptive parents, and children may easily be anonymously abandoned before being sent to orphanages because they lack any legal existence.
Modern alternative child care system O Most other countries have a formal system in children who cannot stay in their families are assessed, and an appropriate course of care is decided for them out of a range of options, including foster care and kinship care. Support for the family of origin is the first priority.  Children are separated from families only when they are in danger if they stay there, and adoption is used only when efforts for family reunification fail. X Korea’s first solutions to alternative childcare has been more or less the same since the end of the Korean War: institutionalization in large orphanages or adoption. Group homes and foster care have been introduced recently on a small scale. Small support is available for grandparents caring for grandchildren. There is little to no effort to reunite families who are already separated and not enough support to preserve families of origin, particularly unwed mothers’ families, by the Ministry of Gender Equality and local governments.


Effect in Korea: Adoption and institutionalization are the first resort for children who cannot be cared for in their families, with adoption viewed as better than institutionalization. Therefore judges cannot really refuse any prospective adoptive parent’s request to adopt, even if they find the parents to be unqualified, because there is no better option prepared for the child. In addition, child abuse and murders are happening all the time. One reason is because there is not an adequate alternative childcare system.
Judicial or administrative process determine the “adoptability” of a child (as well as family separation if needed, etc.) O A judicial or administrative process determines whether a child should be declared a ward of the state or in need of protection, should be adopted, should be put into or taken out of an institution, etc. The type of care arrangement or adoption is determined based on a psycho-medico-social assessment of the child. X There are no judicial or administrative procedures in child welfare law to determine whether a child should become a ward of the state or a child in need of protection, a child in need of adoption or a child who should be put into an institution. They just describe some forms of alternative care: institutions, group homes, and foster families. Where a child ends up (adoption, institution, foster care) is simply decided by their parents. Private adoption agencies decide whether adoption is in the best interest of the child. There is no government authority that determines whether a child may be put up for adoption by the parents or not. The family court judge makes the final decision to approve the adoption, but that final court decision is also the government’s first and only intervention.
Effect: Any child may be relinquished for adoption or left in an institution simply because their parents choose to do so, and any child may be accepted into the adoption system or the institutional system by an adoption agency or institution. Tracking children is impossible; they may go in and out of institutions, or also move throughout the country.


About Calamity Jane, the Expat Insurance Lady in Korea
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