Archive for the ‘Winds of Change’ Category
by By Shannon Heit for the Korea Herald
|A group of expats in Seoul are driving a movement to create a major shift in how the country deals with adoptions. With Democratic Party Representative Choi Young-hee, the coalition presented its bill to revise the current Special Act Relating to Adoption Promotion and Procedure law at a National Assembly public hearing on Nov. 10. [Photo by Marc Champod]|
Leveraging the help of a group of lawyers and a Korean unwed mothers’ organization, a group of expats in Seoul are driving a movement to create a major shift in how the country deals with adoptions.
With the support of Democratic Party Representative Choi Young-hee, this coalition presented its bill to revise the current Special Act Relating to Adoption Promotion and Procedure law at a National Assembly public hearing on Nov. 10.
The coalition has been working together for over a year to draw up a proposal for a new adoption law. Involved are three adoption-related groups — Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoptee Community of Korea (TRACK), Adoptee Solidarity Korea, KoRoot — an unwed mothers group, Miss Mama Mia, and the Gonggam Public Interest Lawyers Group.
What initially began last year as a request to the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission for a probe into cases of allegedly inaccurate or falsified adoption records has expanded into a movement that could change the course of Korea’s adoption program.
Read the rest of the coverage from The Korea Herald…
November 11, 2009
Six Korean adoptees filed an appeal with the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission last year to request a probe into irregularities in their adoption documents and possible illegal procedures at local adoption agencies.
Now, they’re involved in a full-fledged battle to reform adoption laws and procedures, and they’re getting help from some heavyweights.
Adoptee rights and community groups as well as unwed mothers, the public interest law firm Gong-Gam and Democratic Party Representative Choi Young-hee have joined forces with the adoptees in an effort to convince lawmakers to revise the Special Law Relating to the Promotion and Procedure of Adoption.
The National Assembly has now taken up the issue and is exploring changes through a series of hearings.
The latest hearing took place yesterday.
If their efforts succeed, the groups will drastically change the landscape of domestic and international adoption in Korea, a country which lawmaker Choi said at yesterday’s hearing said “still has a stigma attached to it as one of the major exporters of children.”
It would also rank as one of the few cases in the world where adoptees returned to their original country and changed adoption practices through legislation.
When they started this quest, the adoptees, hailing from three different countries, said their adoption records contained contradictory information.
In one case, an adoptee only identified by her initials, SIA, said her adoptive parents in Denmark were informed by an adoption agency in 1977 that it did not have the records of her birth parents. But when SIA came to Korea in 1998 and asked for information about them, the agency did in fact have information about her birth mother. SIA also found that the adoption was done without her mother’s consent.
In another case, an adoptee only identified as PYJ said her adoption agency created a new identity for her when she was sent to Norway for adoption in 1975.
Their initial attempt to delve into the issue hit a brick wall when the civil rights commission dismissed the appeal, citing a lack of proper administrative procedures in Korea at the time of their adoption.
Taking on the law
The adoptees, however, did not stop there. Instead of filing another petition or begging for the release of their records at adoption agencies, they decided to try to revise adoption-related laws to find out the truth and improve the system.
According to the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, 161,588 Korean children were sent overseas for adoption from 1958 through 2008. Korea is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of children behind China, Guatemala, Russia and Ethiopia as of 2007, according to World Partners Adoption Inc.
“Most Korean adoptees are growing up in foreign countries and facing confusion over their identity. Even though they come to Korea to find their roots, there are few cases in which they are given accurate information on their birth or succeed in locating their birth parents. To improve the situation, we decided to hold a hearing on revising the Special Act,” lawmaker Choi said.
Need for stricter regulations
The proposed bill starts with the idea that foreign, and even domestic, adoption is not the best option for children and that public assistance should be given to mothers to help them raise their children, a concept that follows international adoption practices. It also incorporates the notion that adoption processes need to be more strictly regulated to prevent possible abuses by adoption agencies.
“The government wants to push domestic adoption, but all the children already have mothers,” said Jane Jeong Trenka, the president of the Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea and one of the adoptees who filed the appeal at the commission. “The children can stay with their mothers. Single mothers should be given resources to raise their own children. It is still a matter of social prejudice in Korea.”
Trenka added that a number of adoptees had families but were reclassified as orphans before they were sent abroad for adoption. “Because their records were manipulated, only 2.7 percent of adoptees succeed in locating their birth parents,” she said.
The majority of children relinquished for adoption in Korea are the children of unwed mothers. Of the 2,556 adoptions in 2008, international and domestic, 2,170 were the children of unwed mothers. Others were from low-income families or broken homes.
One of the biggest obstacles that prevents these women from raising their children on their own is the social stigma they face as unwed mothers. Another is the lack of social welfare services available to them should they choose to raise their child.
Trenka was adopted by a couple in Minnesota in the United States in 1972 when she was six months old. In 2007, Trenka and other Korean adoptees founded TRACK to help get the government to fully acknowledge its past and present adoption practices.
Reverend Kim Do-hyun, who is the director of KoRoot, which provides accommodation for Korean adoptees returning to the country, echoed those thoughts.
“Behind the Special Law is an idea that adoption needs to be encouraged,” Kim said. “But adoption is not something that we should promote. Rather than pushing adoption, we should reinforce the original family to prevent further separation between mothers and their children.”
Adoption as a business
One of the major changes proposed by the bill drafted by the public interest law firm Gong-Gam is that it would require court approval for all types of adoptions – currently they’re needed only for domestic adoptions – and increase government intervention in matters dealt with mostly by private adoption agencies.
The adoptees say there needs to be more government involvement in adoption because as more adult adoptees reunite with their birth parents and gain access to their records, examples of dubious international adoption practices have surfaced.
TRACK has been documenting these cases through interviews with adoptees and their birth families. They found that in some cases an orphan hojeok (family registry) is produced for a child sent for international adoption, even if the child has a family. Contradictions were also found between the records held by adoptive parents and those kept by the adoption agency. In one case the child was malnourished at the time of adoption but the records sent to the adoptive parents overseas stated the child was healthy. In another case, a child was given up for domestic adoption but was sent abroad for international adoption.
The adoptee coalition believes such irregularities occurred because adoption agencies manipulated records to push international adoption, which is very profitable.
According to the Health Ministry, the four adoption agencies authorized to facilitate international adoptions charge 13 million won ($17,211) to 20 million won for each child sent for international adoption.
Pressure on moms
Another proposed revision would give women a minimum of 30 days to make a decision on adoption, which is standard in Western countries. There is no set period for this in South Korea.
Observers say women are often forced to sign an agreement on adoption almost right after giving birth. If the mothers change their mind, the agencies charge them for all expenses they’ve incurred, from child delivery to the shelters they run. They said adoption agencies tend to encourage adoption rather than telling the women that there are other options available such as raising their child on their own.
“Adoption agencies pressure you to give up your child,” Choi Hyang-sook, a member of the group Miss Mamma Mia, which is also part of the adoptee coalition, said at yesterday’s hearing.
Access to records
Third, the agencies would be obligated to provide adoptees with all information on their birth parents, with the exception of name and registration number if the birth parents do not want their identities revealed. Kim said adoption agencies are often reluctant to share information with adoptees who are looking for their birth parents and vice versa because they are afraid that past abuses could become public knowledge.
“Adoption agencies provide adult adoptees with only partial information, citing the protection of their birth parents’ privacy,” Kim said. “The agencies have often falsified data to suit adoptive parents’ taste or to abide by the laws of the country to which they are sending a child. There were cases in which adoptees were classified as orphans when they were not. The more information they reveal, the more their reputation can be damaged.”
One adoption agency disputed the accusations. “There are records we can open but there are those we can’t,” said Choi An-yeo, a manager at Holt Children’s Services Inc., the biggest and oldest adoption agency in Korea.
Choi said things were different a few decades ago. “Then, it was possible to send an abandoned child abroad for adoption. If someone brought in a child and lied that he or she was a legal guardian, there would be no way for us to find out. We only have followed the laws and we will continue to do so,” she added.
Unifying adoption bills
Democratic Party Representative Choi is sponsoring the proposal while the Health Ministry is also drawing up its own bill. It is not certain how the government bill is going to be shaped but Park Sook-ja, the director of the Office for Child, Youth and Family Policy at the Health Ministry, said she generally sympathizes with the adoptee coalition. “We share similar ideas in general, but we need to take it one step at a time,” Park said.
The ministry has already held two hearings on the bill, however, Park said it is too early to talk about the bill as the final version has not been made yet.
Choi said the differences between the two bills will likely be ironed out before a unified bill is presented to the Assembly early next year.
Based on ‘lies’
Dozens of adoptees including Trenka attended the hearing yesterday in the hope that the bill Choi presented can transform adoption practices here.
Trenka commented, “Adoption may be an act of love, but all adoptions are meant to separate children from their mothers.”
Trenka started writing to her birth parents regularly when she was 16 years old. Her adoptive parents did not like her keeping in touch with her birth parents but one day she found letters from her birth mother in her adoptive parents’ mailbox. Her birth mother had found her adoptive parents’ address and kept sending her letters. Trenka said she still remembers the time she reunited with her birth mother.
“My mother was so emotional. I’d never seen a person so emotional,” she said. “She sat on the floor and poured her heart out.”
Trenka reunited with the rest of her birth family in the 1990s.
“Adoption is a big lie. Its success depends on everyone believing in that lie. They [my adoptive parents] wanted to believe in that lie but I could not do that.” Asked why she is devoting herself to creating the law, she said, “For my mother. My mother died but if I don’t try to change things, my suffering has no meaning.”
By Limb Jae-un [email@example.com]
Presentation address of the HISTORIC new coalition bill presented to the Korean National Assembly
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN THE NAME OF ADOPTION:
WHY WE HAVE TO FIX THE SYSTEM
by Jane Jeong Trenka (Adoptee)
My thanks to Rep. Choi Young-hee for the great honor of participating on this historic occasion, the first time that adoptees and single mothers have proposed an entirely new bill to the National Assembly to revise South Korea’s adoption law. I also wish to acknowledge Choi Young-hee’s staff, who have met with us regularly, as well as the members of the coalition: the Gonggam Public Interest Lawyers, the single mothers’ group Miss Mamma Mia, KoRoot ASK, and TRACK.
I believe it is an unintended benefit to South Korea that while adoptees had no choice in their adoptions to foreign countries, they are now able to report back to Korea on the country’s adoption program and how post-adoption and Korean family services may now be improved. While workers in adoption agencies have certainly voiced their opinions to the Korean government before, I believe it is significant that our bill has been written by a coalition of concerned Korean citizens and diasporic Koreans, international adoptees, and single Korean mothers who will reap absolutely no economic, professional, or social benefit from continuing the adoption system as it has been practiced in the past. Instead, we look forward to meeting international standards of human rights and justice. We seek to create a system of child welfare in Korea that can be a source of not all shame and guilt, but pride and self-sufficiency, for all Koreans.
Today I will give a brief critique on the current law and the problems it has caused for adoptees and their families. I hope these criticisms will be heard by parliament members and the countries influenced by Korean adoption as the result of many lifetimes worth of experience and our sincerest efforts to understand the laws that have profoundly and permanently affected our individual lives, as well as the modern history and society of South Korea. I speak in English, but my wish is for the parliament members to hear the adoptees not as foreigners, but people whose mothers spoke to us in Korean while they carried us in their wombs, and who were born as Korean citizens, but whose families were abandoned by the state.
Gonggam public interest lawyer So Rami will give a detailed presentation on the coalition’s revisions, which were written as specific solutions to specific problems. I will now detail these problems in the hope that these findings will within the next five years lead to a truth and reconciliation process for the adoption community of Korea that identifies past abuses and prevents future abuses so that the relationship between Korean society and the adoption community may at last be healed.
The Korean government’s expediting and preferencing of adoption over the preservation of the child’s original family is a major flaw that has led to the construction of the country’s international adoption program that has now notriously sent up to 200,000 children overseas. While many adoptions appear to have been processed completely legally on paper, many returning adoptees have found that in reality there were abuses that occurred in order to facilitate their adoptions. The American scholar Dr. David Smolin calls this “child laundering,” a reference to money laundering or processing something that is illegal in a way to make it look legal on the surface. In South Korea, these abuses have been documented by TRACK as follows:
1. Unclear relinquishment
TRACK has found cases where the parent did not relinquish under a real name, a person other than the parent relinquished, only one parent relinquished, the child was relinquished for domestic but NOT international adoption, or the signature on the relinquishment form appears to be forged. The current law holds agencies responsible for locating children’s parent in order to make sure they can be sent for adoption, which is a conflict of interest.
As a child, Kim Eun Mi Young hated being different.
When her father brought home toys, a record and a picture book on South Korea, the country from which she was adopted in 1961, she ignored them.
Growing up in Georgia, Kansas and Hawaii, in a military family, she would date only white teenagers, even when Asian boys were around.
“At no time did I consider myself anything other than white,” said Ms. Young, 48, who lives in San Antonio. “I had no sense of any identity as a Korean woman. Dating an Asian man would have forced me to accept who I was.”
It was not until she was in her 30s that she began to explore her Korean heritage. One night, after going out to celebrate with her husband at the time, she says she broke down and began crying uncontrollably.
“I remember sitting there thinking, where is my mother? Why did she leave me? Why couldn’t she struggle to keep me?” she said. “That was the beginning of my journey to find out who I am.”
The experiences of Ms. Young are common among adopted children from Korea, according to one of the largest studies of transracial adoptions, which is to be released on Monday. The report, which focuses on the first generation of children adopted from South Korea, found that 78 percent of those who responded had considered themselves to be white or had wanted to be white when they were children. Sixty percent indicated their racial identity had become important by the time they were in middle school, and, as adults, nearly 61 percent said they had traveled to Korea both to learn more about the culture and to find their birth parents.
Like Ms. Young, most Korean adoptees were raised in predominantly white neighborhoods and saw few, if any, people who looked like them. The report also found that the children were teased and experienced racial discrimination, often from teachers. And only a minority of the respondents said they felt welcomed by members of their own ethnic group.
read the rest of the article here:
For comedienne Amy Anderson…
who gets it in every way.
from KoreAm on-line magazine of the Korean American experience
A Korean adoptee comes to the defense of single moms like herself
Amy and her daughter Aubrey, 2008.
By Amy Anderson
My daughter is 2 and she is the most amazing human being on the planet. Sure, I’m a little biased, but she is pretty awesome. I have been blessed with a healthy, beautiful and intelligent child. I love her more and more each day. And while all mothers feel a special bond with their children, I should take a moment to mention that my daughter is the only blood relative I have ever known.
All that I know about the beginning of my life was that I was abandoned at the Yongsan train station in Seoul on September 2, 1972. I was estimated to be only a day old. After a passerby found me and took me to the police, I was adopted by my American family through Holt, an international agency known as the pioneer of overseas Korean adoption. No information about my Korean birth family has ever surfaced. The love for my adoptive family is sincere and they are indeed my “real” family, but as you can imagine, the special bond I have with my daughter is undeniably visceral.
I cannot fathom living without her.
That said, raising a child is tough. And sometimes, I feel really alone. And it’s because I’m a standup comedian who spends a lot of time traveling, working late hours, and managing an unpredictable schedule. It’s because I’m a single mom.
In my case, I have shared custody of my daughter with her father, which offers some relief, but it also presents a whole bevy of communication challenges that, at times, make the situation feel more stressful. And I’m not saying that raising children within a marriage is easy either, but at the end of a difficult day, I have to believe there is some peace in knowing you have another person in your corner to help pay the bills or lend an extra set of hands. (Anyone who has gone to Costco alone with an infant knows what I’m talking about.)
Just a few short years ago, as I was living my dream of being a comedian and actress in Hollywood, having a baby was not a planned event for my 34th year. Splitting with her father when she was an infant was also unplanned, but I decided to roll with the punches.
The struggle to establish a new life for my daughter made 2008 the most difficult year of my life. It took me months to get us on our feet and just now, I feel I have finally hit my stride. My daughter is thriving, my career is moving forward faster than ever before, and I have a wonderful new boyfriend. At 37, I actually have a life again that I really love.
Last month, just when I was thinking single motherhood was not such a bad gig after all, a friend forwarded an article to me from the New York Times, titled “Group Resists Korean Stigma for Unwed Mothers.” This article, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Choe Sang-hun, details a small group of Korean mothers who are banding together to protect their rights in a country that not only discourages, but also shuns, single moms.
Abortion is widely used in Korea as a way to avoid the shameful and ostracizing title of “unwed mother.” For the women who simply cannot terminate their pregnancies, the second most popular option is relinquishing the child for adoption—usually overseas. These birth mothers often lose all contact with their children.
Deception is rife in Korean adoption due to societal pressures and while adoption files are more accurate than they were in the past, untruths of orphanages burning down, names being concealed, identities being switched, and more, are all too common. The few women who choose the unpopular option of raising their children as single parents risk a life of poverty and social ostracism—for themselves and their children. These mothers are trapped in a no-win situation in a culture that doesn’t value them as the heroes that they are.
Korean women deserve the right to raise their own biological children with dignity and respect. Married or not.
While some American women, known as “single mothers by choice,” are now opting to bear and raise children alone (the clock is a-tickin’, Mr. Right never came along, and the sperm bank is just down the street), I don’t think any woman would describe that path as her ideal. Single motherhood is booby-trapped with emotional, financial and time management difficulties. No little girl dreams of growing up and doing it all by herself.
But as an American, I at least have the perk of being praised as somewhat of a societal hero. In South Korea, that’s never the case.
In 2008, I was selected to take an all-expense paid trip to South Korea to search for my birth family. While the trip yielded no family members for me, it did change the way I understood Korean adoption and my place in the world as a mother and adopted Korean American.
As part of this trip to Korea, which was sponsored by the Overseas Koreans Foundation, we visited babies at the Holt offices in Seoul. These were all infants who were going to be sent overseas, mostly to the United States. To say this was an emotional event would be an understatement. Holding these babies and realizing they were about to embark on the same journey that I had, more than three decades earlier, was overwhelming. Not just because I knew what they were in for, but also because as a mother, I knew how much the women who gave birth to them longed to keep them.
A few days later, I visited a city-run orphanage in Seoul: the Hae Sim Orphanage. Approximately 12 children, both boys and girls, lived in this home under the loving and firm supervision of a small staff. The children, infants to age 7, clearly loved and respected their caretakers. Even the toddlers bowed politely and greeted me with smiling annyeonghaseyos. The older boys were excited to have visitors, and didn’t want us to leave. The children were beautiful—perfect, actually—and I just could not understand why nobody wanted them. I already knew that South Koreans rarely adopted domestically but these children in the city-run orphanages had even slipped through the cracks of overseas adoption. Why?
A few days later, I visited yet another orphanage outside of Seoul. This one, in Anyang, was a much larger facility with at least 40 children. We were greeted by rows of tiny shoes, lined up neatly in the hallway entrance. With volunteers and two fellow Korean adoptees from Denmark and Canada, I arrived to make dinner (spaghetti and meatballs with kimchi) for the children.
After dinner, we played. The little ones, infants through toddlers, clung to us and cried as soon as they were set down, but the older ones, ages 5 to 7, wanted to engage and interact. Perfect children in a tragic setting. It was during a talk with one of the Korean volunteers that I finally learned the truth about these city-run “orphanages.”
She told me, “The children in these homes have Korean parents. They are mostly the children of divorced couples and very poor couples.” Another ugly truth about Korea’s highly Confucianist society is that custody is almost always awarded to the father in the case of a divorce, no matter what the circumstances. If the man does not want to raise the children, or has no relatives who will take care of them, he will often leave the children at one of these homes and the mother has no rights. The misnomer of “orphanage” is widely accepted because Westerners don’t want to hear the truth, but they are simply dumping grounds for innocent victims of an archaic cultural practice. These children are not even available for adoption because they have legal Korean parents, and while the mothers long for their children on the outside, the children languish on the inside.
These children are not orphans; they have parents that are healthy, functioning and alive. That, along with the fact that Korea is still exporting its children when they have the lowest birthrate amongst all industrialized nations, and can boast the 11th largest economy in the world, is disturbing. During a conversation with Dae-won Wenger, a Swiss-raised Korean adoptee and Secretary General of Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link, he pointed out that, “The more advanced Korea becomes, the more [Koreans] are devaluing their children.”
America’s rescue mentality towards foreign children is nothing new and, in the case of Korea, stems from a legitimate history of humanitarian aid after the Korean War. But few people seem to question why overseas Korean adoption peaked in 1985, decades after a cease-fire was signed in 1953. These numbers show that Westerners who now adopt from Korea are participating in a very profitable operation, whether they know it or not. In the majority of cases, they are adopting a single woman’s child. A child like my own.
As a single mother and Korean adoptee with a sketchy adoption file, you can imagine that I have strong feelings on the issue of single mothers’ rights in South Korea. I realized that if I lived in Korea, my own daughter probably would have been adopted out or placed in a group home, and that the choice to keep her would be intrinsically attached to a life of poverty and shame.
But a movement in Korea, though small, has begun. Brave people are finally stepping forward and with advocates like Richard Boas, founder of the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, and allies like adoptee filmmaker Tammy Chu, birth mothers and single parents in Korea will finally have a voice and eventually be able to enjoy the rights they deserve—not just as mothers, but as human beings.
Tonight, I am writing in a hotel room in Pennsylvania, over 2,600 miles away from my little girl in Los Angeles. My upcoming performance is a very important one and may determine how much work I book over the next year. No matter how much I miss my daughter when I travel, I am proud to show her what a woman can do and I am grateful to have the right to do it.
In two nights, I will be home to bathe her, read to her and tuck her in with hugs and kisses because I am her mother and this is how it should be.
from the Korea Times
By Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
In today’s adoption world, South Korea is no longer the largest sending country. Yet, why does it remain the world’s oldest sending country in modern adoption history?
To address this undesirable legacy, the South Korean government has attempted to promote domestic adoption with mixed results.
Though domestic adoption statistically surpassed overseas adoption in 2007, the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs has reported problems with disrupted domestic placements where adoptive parents have returned children to the system.
More significantly, domestic adoption is not a valid solution primarily because it ignores an unwed mother’s human right to give birth to and to raise her child.
Surf the web in Korea for unwed mothers’ assistance. The top links connect you to adoption agency sponsored sites that promise help. Yet what is the quality of this help when there’s a conflict of interest?
Seventeen of South Korea’s 25 unwed mothers’ maternity homes are adoption agency owned and operated. As reported by Choe Sang-hun for the New York Times, “Nearly 90 percent of the 1,250 South Korean children adopted abroad last year, most of them by American couples, were born to unmarried women.”
Current adoption agency practices encourage mothers to surrender their children.
News Trace 60 Minutes (Chujeok 60), a weekly news show of the state-run KBS TV, reports that adoption agencies cover expecting mothers’ medical expenses and typically bring paperwork for a mother to sign relinquishing her child while still in the hospital bed.
A hospital discharge usually occurs 72 hours after delivery. A social worker will arrive at the maternity ward during this window to take the child.
Consequently, many children are unregistered to their mothers and lack identifying paperwork, therefore preventing future attempts for family search and reunion.
In response to instances where mothers have changed their minds and wanted to keep their children, agencies have charged mothers for the cost of their hospital stays. However, agencies receive government subsidies that offset these and other operating costs.
It is also a common agency practice to bill mothers for foster care provided between a child’s birth and placement in an adoptive home. Many mothers, however, cannot pay and end up surrendering their children. The children of unwed mothers are not orphans, nor are they unwanted.
In my interviews with expecting mothers at Doori Home, a maternity home operated by the Salvation Army in Seoul, I learned that each mother who intended to surrender her child did not fully know her options nor have realistic expectations even though Doori Home, which has one of the highest rates of child-rearing motherhood, had provided counseling.
Each mother had named her child. Mothers who chose overseas adoption expected that their children would learn English, become globally and economically mobile, and find and return to them.
This assumption motivated mothers to prefer overseas adoption. However, reunion is the exceptional, not the usual outcome. From 1995-2005, the ministry reported that only 2.7 percent of 78,000 overseas adoptees who initiated a birth search successfully reunited with their families.
Nor did the mothers understand that relinquishment means irrevocably terminating parental rights. When asked about this, the mothers repeatedly said that they were their children’s mothers although others would provide child-rearing care because they could not.
The mothers did not realize that overseas adoption cut their children off from Korean culture. For example, they were unaware that their children, more than likely, would be unable to speak Korean with them should they be reunited in the future.
All of the mothers with whom I spoke mentioned a lack of emotional family support foremost affecting their choice to surrender or rear their children. Their own mothers as well as their partners’ mothers primarily exerted pressure or threatened to take the child to the adoption agency.
The intimate cultural stigma and socioeconomic impediments these mothers face reveal the discriminatory side of South Korea’s economic miracle.
South Korea’s inability to imagine support for unwed mothers separate from domestic or overseas adoption shows just how deeply entrenched adoption, a once privatized postwar solution, has become in the country’s welfare system.
Promoting adoption instead of protecting unwed mothers’ rights to their own children shows that South Korea does not view them and their children as real families. Whether one is for or against adoption misses the point that the vast majority of children placed for adoption today have loving families that South Korea prefers to break up.
Addressing unwed mothers’ human rights requires multiple approaches to end a national culture of shame and secrecy. Foremost, South Korea must build a culture that promotes mothers and must provide real opportunities for them to care for their children.
Instead of punishing unwed mothers, South Korea should value and work with them to invest in future generations that can make our country stronger and more prosperous.
Jennifer Kwon Dobbs is an assistant professor at the English department, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. She can be reached at http://www.jkwondobbs.com.
Probably the highlight of my visit to Busan (since I wasn’t allowed into the theater to see Resilience because I was 2 minutes late – but that’s another story) was meeting Kyong-Wha. (Her story in the New York Times follows below)
I consider myself a lucky girl to not only have heroines, but to meet them and be able to get to know them personally.
Heroine #1 is Jane Jeong Trenka, who is the most unselfish person I’ve ever met. We’re very similar, in that we see a need and follow up on it. But she’s younger and thinks bigger than I do, and she exhausts all of her seemingly (but not) boundless energy creating a better world for women. Currently she and a team of advisors have DRAFTED A NEW LAW to be proposed to the Korean National Assembly. How’s THAT for citizen action??? Historic. Landmark.
Heroine #2 is Kyung-Wha. Here’s another woman who sees a need and, instead of sucking it up stoically by herself, she not only puts herself out there, but creates a foundation for single mothers BY single mothers – the first of its kind in Korea – called Mama Mia.
Reading the article, you will be both energized and impressed by this fearless, courageous woman and encouraged by the writing and the exposure of this issue in the New York Times. But Korea, it seems, does not see Kyung-Wha’s actions or Sang-Hun’s New York Times article in such favorable light. In fact, fall-out and negative comments by netizens of Korea’s insular cyberworld has been rather severe. They ask things like, “How can you ask for the government to help you when YOU messed up?” They refuse to recognize any of the extra hardships and descrimination these women face for TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR ACTIONS. They do not appreciate Sang-Hun airing Korea’s dirty laundry out in public, never once considering that it was they who dirtied the laundry to begin with. They see nothing wrong with the government promoting adoption and discouraging women to raise their own children, as most Koreans still think of America as the land of milk and honey: even though there are more jobs here and the standard of living is REALLY HIGH.
I learned, in addition to the NYT article, that the measly 50,000 won (half of the $85 the government sends to subsidize those who already have the means to adopt) is taken away once an unwed mother gets a job: which of course she must do, because how can you live on $42.50 a month? There is a child support system here, but it is not enforced, so dead-beat dad’s merely have to move so their address no longer matches the database. There is no blame directed at the men for their part in procreation.
Kyung Wha’s little boy is an absolute delight. Jane chases him and they play mock battle like the Pororo characters from Korean children’s tv cartoons. His peels of laughter amuse everyone but his mom, who knows he will be extra hard to settle down. He hits his head under a table and cries and she rocks him in her arms, kissing his head. I see this and remember how much I loved these moments of just being there for my little ones, comforting them. Later, he’s passed out across two restaurant chairs, oblivious to all and looking like an angel, and I remember Jane saying earlier under her breath something like, “and to think he could have been sent away.”
So I’ll post the first half of the NYT article here, and let you finish the rest there…
SEOUL, South Korea — Four years ago, when she found that she was pregnant by her former boyfriend, Choi Hyong-sook considered abortion. But after she saw the little blip of her baby’s heartbeat on ultrasound images, she could not go through with it.
As her pregnancy advanced, she confided in her elder brother. His reaction would sound familiar to unwed mothers in South Korea. She said he tried to drag her to an abortion clinic. Later, she said, he pressed her to give the child up for adoption.
“My brother said: ‘How can you be so selfish? You can’t do this to our parents,’ ” said Ms. Choi, 37, a hairdresser in Seoul. “But when the adoption agency took my baby away, I felt as if I had thrown him into the trash. It felt as if the earth had stopped turning. I persuaded them to let me reclaim my baby after five days.”
Now, Ms. Choi and other women in her situation are trying to set up the country’s first unwed mothers association to defend their right to raise their own children. It is a small but unusual first step in a society that ostracizes unmarried mothers to such an extent that Koreans often describe things as outrageous by comparing them to “an unmarried woman seeking an excuse to give birth.”
The fledgling group of women — only 40 are involved so far — is striking at one of the great ironies of South Korea. The government and commentators fret over the country’s birthrate, one of the world’s lowest, and deplore South Korea’s international reputation as a baby exporter for foreign adoptions.