Archive for May 2010
Head on over to Condusive Mag to read Jane’s majorly important 4-part series of research and analysis of how international adoption operates in Korea — the model for all international adoption.
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Last year 1,080 children were adopted from Korea to the United States.
When we hear a figure like, “approximately 1,000 children” were sent abroad for adoption, it gets diminished in our minds because it starts with one. Whether it is one, or one hundred, or one thousand – just beginning with the number one our minds associate it with the lone figure one with some zeros added, so it seems less than it really is and we don’t bother to look closer.
But what does 1,080 actually mean? It means that, on average, almost Cthree children EVERY DAY boarded a plane from Korea, never to see their country or their mothers ever again. When you think of THREE EVERY DAY it somehow seems like a lot more, doesn’t it?
Most of those children will go to homes where they will know the meaning of one on a profound level: for the others in their family will not be able to share their loss, or understand what it is to look different, or to be disconnected from those that look like them, or have to explain their existence, or try to reconcile why they were given up.
1,080 is a huge number. Even if it pales in comparison with the peak year of 1985, at 8,837 international adoptions, (that comes out to about ten children every day) it’s a huge number to each of those children and each of their mothers. And we can see that whether it’s three or ten daily, both figures are too many and they add up…
The statistics begin in 1968 with 6,677 children adopted abroad, even though the war effectively ended in 1953. The total statistics from 1968 – 2008 are 161,558 children. Add in the 1,125 sent for international adoption in 2009, (89.3% who were children of unwed mothers) and then extrapolate the missing statistics from undocumented private adoptions and the 12 years between 1955 (when Harry and Bertha Holt petitioned congress to allow international adoption) and 1968, (which probably started moderately but grew to 1968’s huge figure) and it’s very easy to see where the estimate of 200,000 Korean children adopted abroad comes from.
Back when I was in the Holt Korea office, looking through the 1966 book of transfer documents from the county where I was born abandoned in, my blood ran cold as I flipped through page after page after page after page of children. Literally hundreds of them. Several every week from my town alone. There aren’t even any statistics on the total number of international adoptions that year, and none of these books (1967 and earlier) are included in the government’s official count of total international adoptions.
The book of abandoned children was just one book of many for Korea that year. (the book few adoptees ever get to see, unless you rampage like I did and come armed with a film crew) How many books filled with several hundreds of children each are locked up in Holt Children Services’ vaults? And Eastern Social Welfare Society’s vaults? and Korean Social Welfare Services vaults? and Korea Social Services’ vaults? The answer? approximately 200 times 1,000.
That blue book with hundreds of slips of paper in it — all from the same county, from the same year — made me realize just. how. much. one. is. One child. One slip of paper. Filling a book. It was an epidemic of abandonment, that spread like wildfire throughout the entire country. The year of 1966 was 13 years after the war ended. The peak year of 1985 was 32 years after the war ended. Doesn’t that seem odd to you? The primary reason for all this abandonment was because the adoption agencies were there, canvassing for babies with whatever promises, lies, coercion, or rationalizations they could come up with. Canvassing for babies with ever growing sophistication in a system that had become an institutionalized machine: a machine that is adaptive and changes in whatever way necessary in order to continue canvassing for babies.
Now, imagine if you will, that America’s solution to its social problems was to send the children of poor families and welfare moms to Dubai or Brunai for adoption? Now, imagine there are government sanctioned child hunters in your country, scouring the hospitals and running unwed mother’s homes. But let’s also imagine there is no welfare or social services in America. Or that the only socially recognized birth control is abstinence. Imagine that baby farming was never abolished in America, and girls are still sent away to give birth in shame and secrecy and must leave the unwed mother’s homes with empty arms. Now imagine if 200,000 American babies were sent abroad at a rate of 3 per day? You’d be appalled, right? I’m here in Korea now. I am appalled. Adoption as social engineering is appalling. Adoption as birth control is appalling. Adoption should be the absolute last resort for true orphans and those who risk losing their life. Prove to me that’s the case in Korea, and I’ll shut up.
Each and every child born deserves to live their lives as nature intended, without the violence of disruption caused by outside forces upon their mothers. Each and every human being deserves this right. Each and every 1 of those 200,000 is such a human being whose rights, in many cases, have been violated.
Each and every number representing a human being is significant.
We’re working hard right now, getting our bill before the Korean National Assembly approved to increase social services so that no more children unnecessarily become numbers/victims/casualties of this baby canvassing machine. And we want you to know that we are not spoiled, petulant, angry adoptees: we are humanitarians who believe in the dignity and rights of all people, especially those too small to speak for themselves.
from the JoonAng Daily
Many Koreans adopted to foreign countries return to Korea every year and are pleasantly surprised to see the development of their mother country. But the pain they feel at losing family, language and culture is difficult to overcome, regardless of the environment in which they were raised.
One young girl adopted by a white family in the United States even said, “I was almost going mad because I was not what I was. Though I have an Asian face, I was not an Asian person. Even though I was raised to be white, I am not white either.” That’s why Korean adoptees and their biological parents, brothers and sisters have been urging the government to overhaul our adoption system.
Even after Korea became a proud member of the G-20, the shameful practice of sending babies overseas, which began over 50 years ago with the Korean War (1950-53), still continues. Every year more than 1,000 children leave their homeland for an unfamiliar country shortly after their birth. Over 95 percent of these children are the children of unwed single mothers. Simply put, our deep-rooted prejudice and social discrimination forces them from their mothers.
The shameless practices of the related agencies also contribute to the situation, because they pressure women with nowhere to go to send their babies overseas in return for assisting them with their delivery. It goes beyond common sense to think that the agencies are coercing these women to sign on a form relinquishing their babies even before the babies are born, and refusing to return the babies without some form of payment if the mother changes her mind.
To curb this malpractice, we need to thoroughly separate unwed mother care centers from adoption agencies. We should also provide women with as much information about raising their children as is given about adoption. And we should listen to what adoptive father Dr. Richard Boas has been saying for many years: “The best solution to this problem is to create an environment in which unwed single mothers are able to raise their children themselves.” After meeting a group of unwed Korean mothers, he devoted his life to advocating for their rights.
The Korean people must also make an effort to get rid of their prejudices of Korean families who adopt. Domestic adoption is undoubtedly better than overseas adoption. But the number of domestic adoptions has been at a standstill for years, in part due to the emphasis on blood ties in our society. Therefore, a new perspective on families should take root here. Building a country that considers both single-mother families and adoptive families as legitimate would be the best way to remove the stigma that brands us as a country that exports its children.
How many children have been separated from their parents under duress while Holt looked the other way?
How many parents were told their children would stay in Korea while they were being swiftly processed for international adoption?
Who was Holt “saving” then?
How many moms are unable to send a message across continents in a foreign language that they love them and never wanted to lose them?
In search for my daughters
It was hard times back then and I was working hard to support the girls, which can not be said about their father. Under the strongest pressure and let to believe that the girls would stay in Korea I signed the paper. In that culture and time a young girl was not really asked. Men and parents ruled.
While I was away working, the father and his family sent the two young girls to France via the Holts agency, as I was later told.
The girls were 6 and 3 years old.
That was in Busan South Korea, December 1985.
I did not even have a chance to say goodbye.
Choi Ji Yeon and Choi Ji Hee
Holts adoptee numbers: K85-3776 and K85-3777
This page has one purpose, which is to let my two daughters know that I love them, and that I am searching for them, hoping to see them again some day.
They were taken from me.
The pain is constant.
Still I dream of their faces.
And wake up crying.
Ji Yeon, Ji Hee – Please contact me at:
I am Sung Gyui Ohk your birth-mother, now living in Denmark
It’s not easy being an international adoption supporter these days: with a building media catalog of botched cases, questionable practices world-wide, and celebrity entitlement excesses, adoption has fallen under increasing scrutiny and attack, the most vociferous criticism coming from adult adoptees themselves. I can’t attribute the quote, but someone noteworthy said recently that adoption was “under siege.”
That’s how this debate is being characterized of late: as a war. The well-funded and embattled adoption industry is digging in its heels and employing everything in their arsenal to stop this changing tide of public opinion, and at the front lines of their arsenal are dogmatic adult adoptees who refuse to look thoughtfully and thoroughly at the criticisms of what brought them to where they are. Many of their arguments are eroding as the general public is more willing to question adoption practices in the wake of the often substantive, well-reasoned arguments made by adult adoptees against international adoption, the fifth estate, and increasingly mainstream media.
The adoption industry clings to their dogma — that they are “saving” children — tighter than ever, as if their lives depended on it. This attitude is especially interesting in Korea, in the absence of war, in how they explain and justify their continued presence here. That doesn’t make sense at all to me, and so I’d like to address the two kinds of “saving” they think gives them license to operate below:
I. Not ripped, but thrown away.
In the continuing insistence that adoption is saving children from a rigid Confucian society or saving unwed mothers from the ostracizing of a severe Confucian society, some adoption industry supporters have told me (in response to my post, unfortunately I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried) that Korea “doesn’t give a shit” and will always throw away its kids, so adoption is necessary. The presence of adoption agencies has no causal effects.
A little history lesson:
Korea used to give a shit.
Scholars have told me that prior to the existence of orphanages — which didn’t exist prior to the Korean War — accidental children and unwanted children were kept within the extended family and true orphans were taken in by monasteries as monks in training. So, they didn’t throw away their children and prior to adoption most children were taken care of internally by society.
Orphanages were a necessity in the aftermath of the war because the country was devastated and family networks were broken up and thousands of children were legitimately saved. But the idea of sending children to other countries was an intervention which would thenceforth alleviate Korea of its social responsibilities towards its most helpless citizens and also later become a convenient avenue for erasing family shame WHICH DIDN’T EXIST BEFORE. In fact, INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION DIDN’T EXIST prior to its INTRODUCTION in Korea, and U.S. social workers at the time were very very concerned about the effects of uprooting children from their native culture to live as minorities in a country still uncomfortable with race issues.
Towards the end of the first wave of adoptions, Koreans were abandoning their children en masse. The reason for this is because of the presence of adoption agencies who offered not only one less mouth to feed, but the promise of a better life elsewhere for their children.. The adoption agencies’ method of helping Korea was not to provide aid to families, but to take children to families abroad who had more means and proper Christian ideals. The concept of international, and of other non-Asian countries, was unfathomable by most, and few had any idea their children were never-to-be-seen-again. Orphanages were thought of as temporary assistance and it came as a shock to most to discover what the permanence of relinquishment really meant.
These adoption supporters have told me, “the truth is you were thrown away.” I’m not going to argue against the reality that I was abandoned, but I will argue against the idea that my abandonment was so callous. Yes, I was thrown away. But was it by my parents? I think I was thrown away by my country, through the design of others’ deceit. I was severed from this country by foreign forces intervening in the delicate structure of a country at its most vulnerable. In the minds of Korean parents at that time, their children were not being thrown away, but handed up. Up to what? No parents (my parents) would leave a child alone on the street, in the middle of the harsh Korean winter, if they hadn’t known HOLT was there collecting children to send to magic lands where the streets were lined with gold. These myths distributed by the adoption agencies exploited the hopes and dreams poor struggling people had for their family members, and are the real reason families abandoned their children. It was/IS STILL the presence of the adoption agencies which is the CATALYST for abandonment. Their presence encouraged families to split apart and the splinters were thrown out of reach. I call that being ripped from Korea; not thrown away.
The later waves of Korean adoptees (the vast majority of them) became orphaned not because of war or post-war economics, but because there was now an established way to erase the evidence of indiscretions and their resulting family shame.
For over 50 years this adoption option has become so well established that instead of a loving (and misguided due to misrepresentation) act of desperation, it has morphed into the defacto choice for preserving family honor, when prior to adoption families just had to suck it up and live with their transgressions. But it didn’t just morph into that on its own. It was suggested by the adoption agencies to fill the orphanages that weren’t needed any longer. Capitalizing on Confucian family honor was an excuse to continue practicing adoption. The presence of the adoption agencies is now used as a means of social engineering through surgery. And, personally, I have a hard time discerning what’s moral, ethical, or charitable in that process. It’s time Korea understands that the wart on their face is not the child or its mother, but the length to which they will go to preserve their image and social standing. But Korea will never have to take responsibility for their transgressions, as they did in the past, as long as the convenience of adoption is an option, and adoption agencies can never have clean hands as long as they persist in “helping” Korea by providing Korea with a trash can. Remove the means for abandonment, and what happens? People have to begin taking responsibility for their actions. Just like they did before adoption was here. Just like the brave unwed moms do against all odds.
I.I. HOLT should be canonized because they care for the handicapped and special needs children.
Taking care of handicapped and special needs children IS a great thing to do. But again, why are those children in an orphanage and not at home with their parents? WHY ARE THOSE CHILDREN IN AN ORPHANAGE AT ALL?
Last June I watched on the news how a jet filled with 30 Korean doctors went to Vietnam to perform cosmetic surgery on children with cleft lips so they could lead happy, productive lives. SK telecom of S. Korea has spent over $2 million U.S. on over 3,000 such operations. The irony of this brought tears to my eyes, and then outrage: Because teams of cosmetic surgeons can command great PR for Korea by saving children from disfigurement in poor countries, but they don’t do it here in their own country. Because Korea has the money to help its own children. Because having a cleft lip is enough reason to become orphaned here in Korea. Because orphanages allow Korea a nice tidy way to not deal with their own problems. Because these children are not problems, but people.
Whether Korean children born out of wedlock have ten fingers and toes, or whether Korean children have a cleft lip, or a severe medical condition, or whether Korean children are born underweight, why are any of them (all of the above without differentiation) in an orphanage?
1) they were rejected because it ruined the family’s image or
2) there weren’t enough means to take care of the children.
In both cases, they are in orphanages:
A) because the orphanages exist, relieving the family from being responsible and
B) because social services do not provide for society
And B) never has to improve as long as there is A) because A) relieves B) of its responsibilities.
Yes, it is saintly to take care of handicapped and special needs children, but not in orphanages: they should be cared for in their own homes and communities by their own country. And Korea has plenty of money to do so. But by setting up orphanages we tell Korea it’s okay to throw away the children you don’t want, to abandon the citizens who can’t defend themselves. And to congratulate oneself or use such “charity” as justification for a continuing presence and complication of domestic affairs of a country is pretty repugnant. Is this how we want to contribute to Korean society? By enabling those that won’t be or can’t be responsible? And the reason there’s little to admire about orphanages for handicapped and special needs children is because there shouldn’t be orphan ghettos created for undesirables in the first place. Providing a mechanism to abandon children — for any reason — is tantamount to condoning abandonment. And it’s not only limited to implicitly condoning abandoning children: it’s actively promoted as the preferred and default solution. Adoption agencies perpetuate the problems here.
And for the adult adoptees myopic enough to support the adoption industry, I’d like to add the following criticisms:
It’s just IDIOTIC for the small percentage of Korean adoptees who were saved from the results of war to hold up war practices and results as the model for peace time. And anyone who uses war practices in times of peace, for that matter. Eliminating adoption, it would seem, negates their reason for being: for going through all the struggles they’ve gone through. But that’s a false dichotomy. Eliminating adoption would instead remove outside forces and allow this country to find its own balance and finally heal itself. HOLT, the other international adoption agencies, and adoptees like KWB, Steve Kalb, Susan Cox and Kim Brown, should find new reasons to purpose themselves — deeper, more effective ways to truly help society sustainably — instead of looking to erect monuments to glories past where they can be part of something heroic and validate themselves. Because they’ve invested so much of themselves, what would their lives mean if it turned out they were misguided? Can’t. Let. That. Happen. At. All. Costs. I’ve no doubt about their commitment: but they want to be a part of something that does good so bad, they don’t realize they are being used to promote and protect something that contributes to the harm of an entire society. Plus, change takes work. Deep work. A lot more work than business as usual. And who wants to work themselves out of a job? Certainly not the adoption industry.
It’s also IDIOTIC to say on one hand that you support unwed mothers, while at the same time supporting the forces that exploit and oppress them.
Caring about unwed mothers is an issue that was co-opted by the adoption industry at first criticism but it’s a red herring, for in practice adoption industry support of unwed mothers is paltry: the bulk of their support of mothers is convincing them their lives will be better without their babies. And yet, the plight of the unwed moms here who choose to keep their children in Korea is too palpable to ignore, even by adoption-industry supporting adoptees. But to give it sympathy and then ultimately dismiss their struggles as being entirely the fault of Korea is turning a blind eye to the fact that they are pressured into giving away their children TO adoption is to dismiss their reality. So either really support those struggling moms, or quit using them and giving their struggles lip-service to appear open-minded.
Your solution just isn’t good enough.
Molly Holt has admitted that “mistakes were made.” What if it was beyond “mistakes?” What if staying on in a country fifty years after there’s no war is just WRONG? What if “saving” children from a rigid Confucian society makes the society even more terrifyingly rigid with even more terrifying consequences? What if this intervention has totally redefined, and not in a good way, the definition of family in this country? What if these what-if’s are not speculation but a reflection of the results of international adoption?
It’s been over 50 years since adoption became established in Korea and there has been been very little progress in social services but almost 200,000 children sent away. And this is a process that should continue? These sad figures would indicate to me that even though adoption is some kind of a solution, there is something pathologically wrong with it and it isn’t fixing anything. 200,000 families fractured. How can we begin to measure the amount of damage this solution has done to this nation?
Adoption agencies are like the martyr mom who promotes her saintliness to others by complaining how she always has to clean Johnny’s room because he won’t do it himself. Johnny’s not stupid, however. He knows he’ll never have to clean his room as long as she’s there to clean up after him. Who’s really at fault, Johnny or his mom? Didn’t the mom create the lazy irresponsible boy? Only in the matter of Korea, there are human lives at stake: the unwed moms who have empty arms and broken hearts and the children who are sent to other countries who must spend their lives explaining who they are and why.
In the matter of war, there is always a time of reconstruction where assistance is given until a country gains strength to manage their own affairs. Only in South Korea, the reconstruction period never ended. Because there remains this vestige of dependency that is adoption. The exit plan never materialized, the (I would argue pathological) adoption solution was introduced, and it’s continued presence has retarded the personal growth, healing, and independence of the Korean people.
To my mind, the entire notion that Korea doesn’t give a shit and is incorrigible so adoption agencies must operate here in perpetuity is just the most negative, sad, hopeless, dis-empowered, lacking-in-faith, dismal assessment of Korean people I’ve ever witnessed. Such statements actually resemble the patronizing dismissive sentiments of a colonist’s condemnation of those they exploit, and shouldn’t be tolerated. I mean, there’s something wrong when the people profiting by the refuse collection are the same people that provide the trash can and are the same people condemning Koreans for using the trash can they told them they needed. That Korean society is something to be saved from or that Korean society can not change (they were changed into a baby exporting nation, so obviously the capacity for change is there) is highly debatable and not a foregone conclusion. And canonizing Holt and the other adoption agencies for their work – have they really been a friend to Korea? Or are they opportunists and exploiters of Korea? Korean people love their children too, and in the absence of the adoption solution they will rise to the occasion and take care of their own, the way they did before outside intervention.
Adoption is NOT the best solution: giving a country true autonomy by discontinuing interventions which warp society is. Helping Korea return to family values and community values of uri nara is. Developing social services is. Preserving families is. Finding balance is. But you have to work at it. And you have to RESPECT people, have FAITH in humanity, and treat them with DIGNITY.
The adoption agencies and their supporters exhortations that they are continuing to “save” children and their mothers from society ring hollow. The only ones they are saving is themselves: from existential crisis, from their real identity work, from self reproach, from job loss, or from eternal damnation. The sad thing is: don’t they realize working themselves out of a job should be the goal? That the goal should be creating strong societies that value all of its people and don’t need to abandon their children?
What a waste of their lives. What a waste of resources, human and economic. What a stupid battle, this adoption war.
For every hour you travel away from Seoul, you also travel back in time a decade. There are less and less resources and it is more and more conservative. At this moment, in Daegu, a young woman is searching desperately for a place for her and her baby to live.
The young woman told the unwed mother’s home at first admittance that she wanted to keep the child. Five times the international adoption agency pressured her to give the child up while the child was still in utero. Five times. And this strong young woman still said no. How many unwed moms are not this strong? After the baby was born, she went to her pastor for help, and the pastor tried to convince her to give the child to him. And so, with no family to help her, no social services to help her, the unwed mother’s home merely wanting to exploit her, and even her pastor wanting what comes out of her loins, she is couch-surfing and looking for any way she can to keep her baby. As. I. write. this.
The Korean government has begun a new program to help Single Parents. It looks to be a great program. Unfortunately, it only helps Single Parents who were at one time legally married.
In a remote part of Jeju island, off the coast of S. Korea, is an unwed mother’s home. There is no t.v. or internet there. There is no job training. There are no real services to help a young woman should she want to keep her baby. But there IS adoption “counseling.”
An adoptee in her late 20’s tells how her reunion is the classic case of having to remain a secret. Her mother did not relinquish her. Her aunt took her and relinquished her. And so her mother was forced to create a life in her daughter’s absence, as if she’d never been born.
An adoptee sits and rots in jail in the U.S. Jane writes him regularly: she’s a saint. Odds are his mother did not relinquish him either. The trail back through time leads to an escort who took him to an adoption agency. These escorts were often paid by the agencies. These escorts were often midwives. These babies were often taken from their moms by the grandmothers or other family members. The midwife escorts could make money on both ends.
Another adoptee writes me and tells me her adoptee friend has been reunited with her mother. The mother said the adoption agency offered her money for the baby. I think the mom should know, since she was there…There was a period when my favorite international adoption agency purportedly offered $90 U.S. a head.
Now, can anyone TELL ME the PRESENCE of international adoption agencies doesn’t exert negative pressure in this country of my birth ??? I mean, can they really believe that? Even adoptees who grew up pampered and smothered with love?
No. I might have been convinced before, but not now. The truth is just shoved in my face all the time here.
You know, Koreans are prejudiced about adoptees: they assume we grew up pampered and are envious of us and our perfect English. And then they meet us and are clearly disturbed we can’t speak Korean and know next to nothing about Korea. They can’t fathom what an identity crisis really is, and it seems a small price to pay for luxury and perfect English (or French or…) and so the loss of identity can easily be dismissed.
But we didn’t “lose” our identity. Whether we had it great in our adopted families or whether we were abused in our adopted families; whether our new countries gave us opportunities or ostracized us; whether we assimilated or never fit in: we did not “lose” our identities. Our identities were TAKEN from us, and we were RIPPED from our country and quite often RIPPED from our mother’s arms under duress. Even me, a foundling: do you really think my parents would have left me on the street, in the middle of winter, if they didn’t know Holt was around collecting kids? No. My family was most likely torn apart by economic disparity. How much of the $500 my adoptive family paid for me could have gone towards preserving my original family in 1966 Korea?
This violence and assault to our person-hood (and our mothers) was done to us by our own country. It appeared first in the guise of aid from outsiders, which was gladly accepted to clean up some social problems, and now it is systemic and structural violence that is institutionalized.
And this violence is STILL HAPPENING TODAY. How many adopting parents even bother to come to Korea? How many have even seen their babies before picking them up at the airport? How many white people have those children ever seen in their lives? How many Korean words does the adopting parent know when they receive their baby? How many Asians will be in those children’s lives? The list goes on and on, and it’s a thousand little violences on top of the main violence that never actually goes away and is evident there every time you pass a reflection of yourself…
Today I was in the bookstore, once again trying to find resources to help me learn my lost native tongue, and I came across a cartoon history of Korea for foreigners. The history book ends with Harry Holt saving children after the war. It mentions the Holt’s continuing work with the handicapped and how Holt promotes domestic adoption. It fails to mention the staggering approximately 200,000 sent abroad for international adoption, the VAST MAJORITY not handicapped, and in the ABSENCE of war or famine or really any valid reason whatsoever.
You see, the real history of us 200,000 is always left out of history books. Because it’s not becoming. But it needs to be in there. But if it were really in there, then international adoption would come to a screeching halt. So there are forces preventing the real truth to be recorded. But it needs to end. Now. Not 60 years and 100,000 more babies. Because when Korean moms want to keep their babies, and when they turn for help, they shouldn’t be greeted by a wolf in sheep’s clothing.