Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Response to the Recent NY Times Article


This is in response to such a biased article "Why a Generation of Adoptees Is Returning to South Korea?" written by Maggie Jones.  The article was recently published in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/magazine/why-a-generation-of-adoptees-is-returning-to-south-korea.html?_r=1).

The article was very critical against the intercountry adoption (ICA), with arguments mostly supported by the anti-adoption activists living in Korea. The article mentioned the problems the ICA brings, mainly in racial discrimination, being uprooted without choice from the place of their birth and planted in foreign lands, the pain of separation from their birth families, the loss of a heritage, culture and language. 

Their arguments may be valid, and I certainly don't want to look down on their views.  I accept that many adoptees have suffered some pain, perhaps immense pain that won't go away.  But at the other side of the spectrum, there are much greater number of adoptees that have fared well and are happy with their adoption experiences and their lives, and their positive sides of ICA is totally drowned out by the article.

In the article, one adoptee asked, “How can a person exiled as a child, without a choice, possibly fathom how he would have ‘turned out’ had he stayed in Korea?"  This question is probably hard to comprehend or understand for many adoptees that were sent as babies.  It is very hard to comprehend what their lives in Korea might have been like as most adoptees were sent abroad before they even tasted the misery of orphan lives.

The biggest flaw with the article was that it only listened to the adoptees that looks at the ICA issues with one angle - that they were separated from their birth parents, that they were admitted to adoption agencies, and that without their choosing were sent overseas, thus losing their culture, language,...and they are miserable and angry, and want to make themselves extinct by putting an end to the ICA.

What Ms. Jones and the adoptees in the article don't understand is that when a child becomes an orphan for whatever the reason, without adoption there is usually one place to go in Korea - an orphanage. A child may be put into a foster care, or even in a group home, but these types of arrangements no better alternatives for the orphan.

While it is true that some could have been reunited with their birth parents had they stayed in Korea, but reunification was very rare as many birth parents deliberately chose to give up their children. Look at the 17,000 children that are housed in 280 orphanages in Korea. Hardly any birth parents go back to reclaim those children.  Most children wait and hope that their birth parents will someday take them home and be happy, but that dream never get realized.  For adoptees, it would be a fantasy to assume that had the adoptees stayed in Korea the reunification would have happened for them.

What they don't seem to understand is that their lives in Korea would have resulted in much greater losses than what they claim to have lost through ICA. Most notably the loss of opportunity that will forever damage or marginalize them for the rest of their lives.  This is so much more than the loss of a culture, racial discrimination, or any other losses mentioned. The loss of birth parents is a common denominator whether you are adopted or orphaned.

While there may be a few exceptions, had an adoptee stayed in Korea there would be the loss of opportunity to have a family of his own. There would be a loss of opportunity to a higher level education.  There is a loss of guidance and mentorship due to the absence of parents. There is a loss of respect and status as a person just by being an orphan in Korea. There may be a loss due to social discrimination that comes through a marriage refusal or the loss of employment or business opportunities lost for having an orphan background. Read further down for additional details.

Like many adoptees that have expressed the pain of loss through separation from birth parents, so do orphans, except to a much greater degree. Unlike many adoptees, they don't even have the adoptive families to lean on.

So what would have been the alternatives for (now adult) adoptees if they were not adopted through ICA? Orphans growing up in Korea have historically faced incredible challenges as they are subject to strong social stigma.  I know this all too well as I experienced living in an orphanage for eight years before being adopted at the age 14.

Compared to ordinary children with families, orphans in Korea experience what I call “status discrimination.” I have heard and read about the experiences of racial discrimination as described by adoptees living in Europe or in the U.S.  But this type of discrimination is nothing compared to the status discrimination that orphans have to endure. By status discrimination, I am referring to the discrimination for being an orphan, the lowest in the social status in Korea, perhaps a little better than a beggar status.  Having an orphan background in Korea risks the denial of opportunity for good education that will help him to be competitive (orphanage does not provide a stimulating environment for learning), or get a good job.

In the old days, only three to five percent of orphans were able to go to college. Although educational opportunities for orphans have increased in recent years, they still fall significantly below educational opportunities of ordinary Korean children with families. By contrast, approximately 70 percent of Korean adoptees in the U.S. and Europe receive a four-year college education or above. Just from an educational point of view, there is no denying that ICA provides more educational opportunities.

The status discrimination of orphans does not end with limited educational opportunities. If a young man with an orphan background wishes to date and marry a woman with a family, often the woman’s parents reject the man even though the woman loves him. If two men (or women) of equal ability apply for the same job, and one grew up in an orphanage and the other in a normal family, the applicant who grew up in the orphanage usually loses out.

Although the social stigma against orphans has lessened over the years, it still presents a big challenge for children growing up in orphanages. Not many orphans are adopted domestically in Korea, as the orphans are mostly older, and Korean nationals tend to prefer adopting infants and girls.

What’s so devastating is that the orphans in Korea must leave the orphanages when they turn 18 years old. Often these orphans are emerging from the orphanage just out of high school, with very little marketable skills. Leaving the orphanages, these young adult orphans are usually given a onetime severance allowance of anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. But this meager allowance runs out very quickly.

With no financial support or family support available, going to college would be impossible. These young adults go through extreme hardship once they leave the orphanages. A few find ways to stay with friends and/or extended families, but not all of them are that fortunate. Most wind up working in low-paying jobs at which they work long hours, and some get involved in criminal activities. Some may become successful teachers, pastors, nurses, etc., but these types of successes are very few compared to others who haven’t fared so well. In many areas of their lives, adults with orphan backgrounds must be vigilant to keep their background a secret, for fear of status discrimination.

When I look at the educational accomplishments of some of the adoptees that are strongly against adoption, I have a hard time understanding how they could speak against the very system they have tremendously benefited from. Most of them have college degrees, some of them have Ph.D. degrees and some are college professors. Without being adopted overseas into an environment which supported them to that level of achievement, they most likely would not have received the education or the distinctions they now enjoy. By contrast, the orphans in Korea would die to have the same opportunities the adoptees have. I remember visiting an orphanage and meeting several high school orphans that were about to age out.  I asked what they most wished for, and they all expressed their desire to be adopted and be educated.

Granted that one’s happiness is not determined by educational achievements; however, there can be no question that ICA has provided opportunities for many orphans that would not have been available had they remained in Korea.

No one would argue that it would better for children to grow up in the family environment than in institutions.  Furthermore, in all of childcare methods available, only one, adoption, can provide the children with their most basic rights ---- their rights to their own families. When a homeless child is barred from an opportunity to have his own home, this is a greater child abuse than any alleged “losses” experienced by the adult adoptees through ICA.

The anti-adoption factions in Korea have used the cause of birthmothers’ rights to speak against ICA, as well as against domestic adoption. Because they claim that adoption causes the separation of a child from the birthmother, they use the phrases such as “Family Preservation over Adoption Promotion” to make their points known. However, in their zeal to put an end to adoption by advocating birthmothers’ rights, they have focused more on birthmothers, not on the rights of children, the more vulnerable ones.

I believe that, while birthmothers’ rights should be advocated, it is wrong to do so by trampling on children’s rights to their own homes and families. Birthmothers are adults who have voices, and they can make certain choices for themselves, whether good or bad. But the children have no voice. Many adoptees have spoken out to advocate for their own rights and the rights of birthmothers’, but very few have chosen to speak for the rights of children to have their own homes.

Before an adoptee speaks of her losses due to ICA, I hope she understands how much more a loss a child who remains as an orphan in Korea has to suffer. And I hope she understands that in speaking about her losses, and by advocating closure of ICA, how her demands may put in jeopardy the rights of the children to homes of their own. Unfortunately, their activism has resulted in so many children being admitted to institutions while the number adoption in Korea dropped by a whopping 50% due to the special adoption law.

I ask adoptees with such inclination to take some time to visit the orphanages in Korea, and see how the children live. Touch them. Speak with them. Hear their hearts and understand who they are, and understand how much greater their loss is compared to adoptees.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As the New Year Dawns in Korea - Some Changes are Coming

The New Year celebration, no matter where it is held, is always met with expectations of more promising hope and better future.  But when it comes to adoption landscape in Korea, it is hard to see the year 2015 will be any better.  It is hard to be more hopeful or optimistic when so many children are impacted by the special adoption law. With so many children abandoned and the number of adoption less than half of what it used to be before the law, it is very hard to be optimistic. Pastor Lee of the Baby Box asked an appropriate question when he asked, "For whom was this law made to serve?"  Definitely not for the children that are being abandoned as their rights to homes have diminished significantly.

Hardline stance against the adoption agencies
The Ministry of Health and Welfare has just thrown another wrench at the three adoption agencies, by enacting a new rule as of January 6, where the agencies must show clear evidence of making efforts to place children into biological families, and also show that all efforts to place children domestically have been exhausted before placing a child overseas.  Also, the agencies are to glean out more qualified parents, and provide one year of post-adoption service after the adoption.  If the agencies violate any of these rules, they are liable to be shut down for business between 7 to 15 days. 

The stringent requirements above are not without cause as it is the result of one adoptive mother in Korea that abused and caused death of a child a month ago, and the agency that provided the adoption service to the woman without fully checking out on her background, was blamed for the mistake.  And of course there was Hyunsu O'Callaghan, who died at the hands of his adoptive father in Maryland last year that resulted in stricter psychological screening for adopting parents and extended post-adoption service to one year.

Changes in the Family Court
There is also a news that two or three judges at the family court may be rotated out and replaced by other judges. However, the judge that has the best view on intercountry adoption will remain, but he is also known to take longer than others to process the cases. But a representative at an adoption agency confided with me that this does not mean that the court procedure will be delayed much. She predicted based on the past experience that no more than a month delay initially, and then catch up right away. So the waiting families need not be concerned regarding this. It is certain that some changes will happen in the court, but nothing has been decided so far. 

EP Status as of 2014
The year 2014 has been a challenging year for domestic adoption in Korea.  The three agencies worked hard to place children domestically, and I fear that my initial estimate of 600 was somewhat optimistic, meaning the number may fall below 550, thus the number of intercountry EPs granted may be lower than 400 that was estimated earlier. I am guessing that all three agencies will total around 360 EPs total (again this is my estimate).

Despite all the challenges brought by these changes, I don't want to paint a doom and gloom forecast. It is increasingly becoming evident that despite the refusals by the Ministry and some anti-adoption organizations to admit that the special adoption law has backfired causing harms to so many children, more and more people are becoming convinced that while the law had some good aspects to it, it did not result in the best interest of the children. I hope this realization will continue to be spread to the people in the government to revise the special adoption law to allow anonymous relinquishment option available for unwed mothers that don't want or cannot raise their children.








Tuesday, December 23, 2014

As the Year 2014 Closes, the EP Status and a Final Message


With the children at an orphanage in Korea, May 2014
 
The year 2014 is coming to a close in a few days.

It was a year filled with continued frustration and anguish as the children are caught in a political jigsaw puzzle created by the special adoption law of August 2012.

The Impact of the Special Adoption Law
Looking back a year ago in 2013, the domestic adoption in Korea saw only 686 adoptions, whereas before the special adoption law the typical yearly average of domestic adoption was over 1400.  The intercounry adoption was 236, a sharp decline from 755 in 2012. 

The special adoption law was the cause for so many babies being abandoned.  Just in 2013 there have been close to 300 children abandoned (252 of them through the Baby Box), and in some cases murdered or left to die. There has been around 20 adoptions on the children that were abandoned through the Baby Box or other means, and the rest of them are institutionalized.

There are many, especially those who have defended the law, would state that the number of babies being abandoned increased due to so much media exposure given to the Baby Box, not because of the law.  However, the fact is, there was a sharp rise in the media attention on the Baby Box only because of the large number of children being abandoned in the first place right after the law was enacted.  Sure, the media attention brought about more unwed mothers to the Baby Box over time, but the babies were being abandoned right after the law was enacted, which became a news worthy story in the first place that got started on more media roll. I have stated before and I state it again. The Baby Box is not the cause of abandonment, but a method used by unwed mothers that have already given up their babies in their hearts when the law took away the rights of unwed mothers to anonymously and lawfully give up their babies.

All in all, the special adoption law, which was supposedly designed to serve the adoptees' rights to know their birth records (so they can trace to find their birth parents later in life) by requiring all the unwed mothers to register their babies first in order to place them for adoption, have backfired as those abandoned babies have no birth records to speak of.

So to meet the desires of one group of adoptees on their rights to know, it has trampled on the rights of the babies in the form of abandonments, and through the significant reduction in the number of adoptions.  It has also brought great injustice to the children that are sent to institutions because the law has made it so much harder for couples to qualify, and the adoption process has eliminated parental option or preference to keep their adoptions secret in a society where adoption is still looked on with negative social stigma. This cultural oversight has turned away so many potential parents, and I believe this is the biggest reason for the significant drop in the domestic adoption.

The special adoption law serves the interest of grown-ups, not the rights of the helpless and voiceless babies and their survival.  The law has put a big barrier for adoptive parents to qualify, and while some of them are necessary (i.e. greater background checks), some are unnecessary (i.e. much longer process and requiring too many unnecessary documents). 

It is no brainer that the rights to life matters more than the rights to know.

Regarding the EPs in 2014
As for the year 2014 comes to a close, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) will determine the final number of EPs (Emigration Permits) that will be granted based on the number of domestic placements the three agencies (Holt, SWS, and Eastern) have performed in 2014.  Currently the number of domestic placements is expected to be around 600 to 650 (all three agencies combined).  Using the 2/3 rule, that would amount to around 400 to 430 intercountry adoption EPs will be granted (assuming the MOHW decides to upholds its own rule, which they didn't keep last year).  Last year there were 686 domestic placements, but only 236 EPs granted, far fewer than over 400 that should have been granted.

Regarding the Judge
Many of you have written to me with questions or frustrations regarding a particular judge who seems to take longer than others to process the cases assigned to him.  It has been known that while some judges issue court dates weeks after the submission, this judge can take as long as four months to issue the court dates.  I have made some inquiries and I am told that this judge takes long not only on the cases for adoptions, but on all the other family related cases assigned to him.  My best answer is that this judge goes through the details of each case so thoroughly that it takes him much longer to process the cases assigned to him.  But I did hear from several families that were assigned to this judge that he is a very pleasant and warm person once they met him.  We have to be very careful as we cannot criticize the professional preference or the integrity of the judge who follows his conviction in his work.  My only recommendation is that you accept him as he is and just be patient, and he will eventually get to your case and you will have happy experience of meeting him. I know this is not a satisfactory answer, but this is the best I can do at this point.

Closing Remarks
As I reflect the year 2014, I can hold my head up for trying, but always there is a place in my heart that convicts me that I could have done better.  I have served the needs of homeless children and their rights to grow up in loving homes, and the needs of the anxiously waiting parents that were counting the days for their children's arrivals. I have served the children as I hear their voices crying out for families of their own.  I know. I have been there many years ago.

But I am most impressed with the waiting parents and their love for their children. The waiting parents have posted the pictures of their children on the SNS, attached them on the refrigerators and walls, carry them in their wallets to show, and I met one particular father that even tattooed his waiting child’s name on his arm.  And many of you have offered prayers asking God to quickly bring them home. One bad incident of an adoptive parent gone wrong does not reflect the rest of you as some have tried to portray.

I have been deeply touched and moved by so many of you on how much you love the children that you have not met. Often I had to ask where such love comes from.  Your love for the children has been a source of my strength throughout the year, and the plight of children as my passion call, and this will never die in my heart. Please keep me in your prayers.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!












Sunday, November 2, 2014

EP Update - Correction

I posted earlier that the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) will no longer accept the applications for Emigration Permssion (EP), and this was based on one of the notices sent out by one of the US agencies.

I then got contacted by an agency in Korea that this was not true and that the MOHW is still accepting the EP applications.  I then subsequently contacted the remaining two agencies and confirmed that the MOHW did not send out such notice.  Clearly there was a miscommunication somewhere along the way.

But this is an excellent news for all the waiting families, and my sincere apology to post a blog without first verifying with the corresponding agencies in Korea, thus causing much grief and pain to many of you.

Because this was such an important issue, I had to contact all three agencies and they all confirmed that the EPs are still being, and will continue to be accepted.  They (the MOHW) would still monitor the number of domestic adoption placements done by the agencies, and use the '2/3 Rule' to determine what the final adjustment will be at the end of the year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why No EP Since July 30th


I have heard from several families asking why there have not been additional EP applications since July 30th.

The reason is that the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), predicting that a certain number of EPs will be granted this year, has allowed the agencies to submit sooner, around 90 applications in late June and another 90 in July 30th.  The two submissions number around 180 EP applications submitted to MOHW.  So, with the EP submissions that were made earlier than June, the total number of EPs submitted this year would certainly reach around 250~300.

The MOHW did not base this number (190 EP submissions) based on the number of domestic placements of children within Korea, but based on the knowledge that they will eventually adjust the final number of EPs for the year 2014 based on the 2/3 rule they have been using. In other words, the MOHW allowed more EPs sooner in favor of many waiting families, knowing that they will eventually adjust the number at the end of the year.  

As you all know, the MOHW has been applying 2/3 rule for some time now.  For those who are not familiar with the 2/3 rule, the MOHW will allow the number of EPs submitted for intercountry adoption based on 2/3 of the number of adoptions the agencies place domestically. For example, if an agency places 300 domestic adoptions, then they will be allowed to submit 200 EP applications for intercountry adoption.

As of September 30th, the three agencies have placed around 500 children domestically. Assuming another 150 domestic placements to occur during the remaining three months (Oct - Dec), then one can guess that around 650 domestic adoptions will take place for the year 2014.  This is close to the 686 domestic placements that took place in 2013.  So one can conclude that for the year 2014, there will be around 430 (2/3 of 650) intercountry adoptions compared to 236 in 2013.

This does not mean that the intercountry adoption is on the rise.  It simply means that last year due to the adjustment issues centered on implementing the special adoption law, the number of intercountry adoption came in much lower than it should have been.  236 adoptions instead of what should have been 457 (2/3 of 686).

One can expect that there will be additional EP submissions by November, to grant the remaining EPs for the year.  I am guessing that to be around 150 ~ 160 EPs. 

I hope this helps to clear away the questions that many were asking.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Law Will be Revised to Protect Birth Parents’ Anonymity

This article is from the Yonhap News in Korea.
For a long time the Ministry of Health and Welfare has denied that there was a correlation between the Special Adoption Law and the sharp rise in the abandonments.  The article below seems to indicate that they are finally admitting that there is a direct correlation between the law and the abandonment increase since the law went into effect in August 2012.

The proposed law that is being worked is not 100% satisfactory, and may still result in many unwed mothers to abandon their babies, but it is certainly a step in the right direction to protect the unwed birth parents' privacy information even if a child is not adopted or in some cases disrupted. 

I have been advocating a revision of the Special Adoption Law to allow anonymous relinquishments by the birth parents without the required birth registration, but the approach  explained in the article is somewhat of a compromise that might work as the privacy information for all birth parents, regardless whether their children are adopted or not will be protected.  I hope this results in much fewer abandonments of babies in Korea. 

However, this produces another challenge. How do you convince the unwed birth parents that their anonymity will be protected even if they register the babies. It may take time, but I am encouraged and convinced that this law revision will reduce the number of babies being abandoned in such  places like the 'Baby Box'.

--------------------------

From the Yonhap News, September 21, 2014 (Original article in Korean at: http://www.yonhapnews.co.kr/bulletin/2014/09/19/0200000000AKR20140919095900017.HTML)

Under the increasing fear that birth parents’ personal records may be compromised by requiring birth registration in order to place a child for adoption, it appears perhaps the day is coming where the number of babies being abandoned in places like the ‘Baby Box’ may be significantly reduced. 

The law to protect unwed birth mothers or other information related to the birth parents from the public is being currently being revised, and is in the final stages of the process. Once it goes through the passage process, it could become law early next year.

On September 21, the Department of Justice, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, along with Human Rights Association of Korea, recognizing the never-ending controversy surrounding the human rights violations against the birth parents’ rights to privacy through the excessive disclosure of private information under the current law, have decided to revise the Family Relationship Registration Law. This legislation effort is led by the Department of Justice, which after the legislation’s review and discussion to be held this October, it will be submitted to the National Assembly. If this legislation revision is passed by the Assembly this year, the law will become effective as early as next year.

The legislation revision will require a proof of information in the Family Relationship Certificate, but will not include information that the birth parents do not wish to disclose. The types of proof that needs to be provided may include either ‘general certificate’ with minimum information or ‘detailed certificate’ with much greater detailed information. If there is no special purpose or reason, then one cannot request the detailed information. Not only that, the illegal request or distribution of private information will be punishable by law.

A birth parent may request that only limited birth information is included and another person may not view the record. In this way, the private information of the birth parents will be protected in the document if a child is not adopted, or if the adoption is disrupted.

In other words, the unwed mother will be spared from the agony of having to choose to abandon her baby because of the fear that the private information on child’s birth in the Family Relationship Certificate may become known.

The current law that was enacted on August 2012 requires the unwed mothers to keep their babies for seven days to seriously reconsider before placing them up for adoption. In addition, they are required to register their babies, and they need to submit a Family Relationship Certificate to the Family Court to get the baby approved for adoption.

The problem was that the law that was created to protect the rights of children and to promote domestic adoption has resulted in the disclosure of excessive private information on birth parents due to the Family Relationship Registration Law that was approved in January of 2008.

Currently, when a birth mother registers her baby, the record is included in her family registry. The record is erased once the baby is adopted. However if the baby does not get adopted or if the adoption was terminated, then the record does not go away. The worst is not really the record itself, but when she is required by her community to provide this document of her Family Relationship Certificate for whatever reason, the document will have the record of the child’s birth and the name, causing unnecessary amount of private information to be revealed. 

Even for the child, under the current law, all the documents related to the Family Relationship Certificate will reveal the history of the child’s adoption, or even adoption termination (if any), the fact that he/she was born out of wedlock, and the other information will be shown in great detail.

Once it was realized that the Family Relationship Registration Law allowed too much disclosure of private information, the Human Rights Association of Korea appealed last November to the National Assembly, the Department of Justice, and the Supreme Court with the right to protect privacy and stop unnecessary information being released to the public.
Ms. Lee Hyun Joo, the team leader for the Policy on Children’s Adoption Bureau in the Ministry of Health and Welfare stated, “We need to strengthen our responsibility to the nation by rooting down the adoption policies that will best uphold the rights of children, and we must try our best to come up with a child care system that will center on taking care of the children born in our country, first with birth parents, then domestically by parents who live in Korea.”

Sunday, August 31, 2014

20 Children Each Month...Who is Responsible for their Abandonments?


This article on Rev. Lee Jong Nak of the Baby Box came out recently in a Korean news magazine called OhMyNews.  The original link to the article (in Korean) is at:
But I have translated the article below for my readers.

Among the heavily populated residential area in Seoul Kwanak-Gu Nangok-Dong, stands a church. On the outside of the church there is a sign over a box “Please pull the handle below and put your baby if there is no way for you to keep the baby.” This is the Baby Box. The Rev. Lee Jong Nak (60) of the Jusarang Community Church, made the box in 2009 to accommodate the children being abandoned.
“My youngest son is 28 this year, and he has been lying in bed for the past 14 years.  He is severely handicapped and is considered a vegetable person. He spent many years in hospitals and I have met many parents that leave their children in hospitals and disappear. They say they will go earn the surgery expenses but never return. I wonder how can they be at peace for leaving their sick children in hospital? But they hope that the hospital will take care of their children.

One day an elderly woman who has never met the Rev. Lee came to see him.  “I have a granddaughter and she is in a vegetated state like your son.” If you take care of this girl I would be able to close my eyes in peace.  This was how the Rev. Lee got started with the adoption of special needs children.

On one early spring morning in 2007, a phone call came to the Rev. Lee.  The caller said that there was a baby left in front of his church.  Rev. Lee went down to see the place and there was a newborn child in a blanket inside a box that reeked with fish smell.  He noticed that there was a large cat nearby that came at the smell of fish. This was when it hit him that for the safety of the babies, a Baby Box was needed.
“I shivered at the time.  If I had come out just a bit later, what might have happened to the baby?  I can still remember the look in the cat’s eyes. After that night I thought that there must be a safe way for the children to be abandoned.”

The baby brought in a fish box was born prematurely and had the Down syndrome. He could not eat well. The nearby hospital doctor said that the baby had a very little chance to survive and that the pastor should just give up.  But today, that child is healthy and attends a kindergarten.

“No matter what others say, I am a father to the children.”
Once the babies are abandoned in the Baby Box, they are sent to the Seoul Children’s Hospital for health checkups, then they are assigned to the baby institutions throughout the Seoul area.  The special needs babies are sent to the special needs center and the healthy ones are sent to various institutions. But many children find getting a good care at institutions difficult. Therefore the children that are cared by the Jusarang Church are severely needed children.

Then the Rev. Lee decided to adopt 15 of those children.  Nine of them were adopted by the Reverend, but the applications to adopt six others were rejected.  He took these cases up to the Supreme Court, but still lost.  The reason for the rejection was due to the question on how one can raise so many children with very limited income.
“But how can I turn those unhealthy children away?  I have kept them all.  Even though legally I am not their father, I wanted to be their father. Children needs parents. We are their father and mother. They are all our children.”

One by one the family grew to 21. As the number of children were added, the problem was with the limited space. One day when a child visited his friend’s house, he came back and asked, “Why don’t I have my own room?”  Hearing this made the pastor feel sorry for the child, and he recently was able to find a bigger place in Siheung-Dong with borrowed money.
“We are supported by the sponsors. The Government has never helped us. But if I as a parent can provide such a place for my children, I would not withhold anything back.

When the door of the Baby Box opens the bell rings.  The Rev. Lee immediately goes down to fetch the baby.  One time I went down and there was a soldier who was on leave and a teenage mother. They cried their hearts out, “I still remember that night vividly.”

“I tried to comfort them by saying don’t worry too much as there are ways to solve the problems. I suggested to the soldier to contact his parents, and he said that he was afraid that he would be beaten to death. But despite the fear he approached his parents and told them the truth.  But their reaction was completely unexpected.  The parents said, ‘Bring the baby home.’ But not too many unwed parents have this big of courage.  Because of the fear from unaccepting parents, I wound up meeting seven parents of unwed mothers on their behalf.”
When the Baby Box opens and the bell rings, the Rev. Lee drops everything he does and runs downstairs. He wants to meet the parents. He feels the importance of taking care of the children that have been abandoned, but also want to share the burden that the unwed parents must go through.

“Most of the unwed mothers that come are in their teens.  How painful it must be for them to come? What agony they must go through in their hearts? They also need to live. They need a place to let go of their pain and shame. If I only cared for the abandoned babies what good would it do? Both the children and the parents must live.”

“Is there something greater than life…”
The Baby Box has now been in existence for five years, and there are some that criticize what I do. They claim, “The Baby Box encourages the abandonments and takes away the responsibility of unwed mothers to their children.”

“These sorts of accusations are like playing with words. Who has the guts to say to the teen mothers that what they are doing is wrong and they are responsible for the mess they made.  This type of attitude is very irresponsible.  Is there something more important than life?”
The Rev. Lee recalls a phone call he received from a teen mom. The voice on the other end said “I was about to take a poison with my child.” The Rev. Lee talked with the woman for two hours to change her mind. He finally convinced the mother to take the taxi and brought the baby to the church. She had a bottle of poison in her hand.

“It was very hard to convince her. Is there a person of critic that truly understands their predicament or at the least be curious to know what they are going through?  They only condemn me.  If a person is sinking in water one must first save the person. Will they argue that I do not have a life guard license? If there is a fire one must report the fire and help to put the fire out.  Why question one’s qualification? Really.”
The Reverend appears on all the media coverages on the Baby Box without hesitation.  It is to save the lives of the children. But each time he is also met by criticisms.

“I challenged one critic. ‘What problem does the Baby Box bring?’ He said that it encourages additional abandonments of babies. So I asked him. ‘What evidence do you have to show there are more babies abandoned because of the Baby Box? He couldn’t show any evidence.  In actual, the Human Rights Association of Korea handed down a conclusion. The Baby Box does not violate the human rights.”
On May of last year, someone submitted to the Human Rights Association of Korea complaining that the ‘Baby Box violates the human rights of children and the welfare law and that the building itself is illegal’.  But on September 27th of the same year, the Human Rights Association of Korea handed down the conclusion that ‘The Baby Box is not in violation of the human rights nor is there a legal basis that the building is considered illegal’.”

‘The Law that does not protect both the children and the parents’
The Rev. Lee claims ‘Special Adoption Law’ is the cause of child abandonments.  When the law was enacted in August 2012, the adoption process changed from a reporting system to the approval system. On top of that the adoption requirements for the parents got tighter and required the unwed mothers to register their children, thus making it much more difficult to adopt.

“It is driving the unwed mothers to the edge as they cannot register. It is an abuse by the law. How can a teen mom register her baby? Even if she did, she cannot raise him so she must relinquish him for adoption. Both sides of the birth parents must get involved. Is this feasible? How many can be adopted through this means? And this is not all. The registration record gets erased when a child is adopted. But for those babies that don’t get adopted, or those that are disrupted, their registration doesn’t get erased.  What kind of law is it that it cannot protect both the mothers and the children?”
Before the Special Adoption Law people can simply report on their adoptions, but now the family court is involved to approve or disapprove the adoptions.  In the old days people were able to adopt as their children as if they were their own, but now secret adoption is no longer possible. It is because the family court is involved.

In the US, all 50 states have the law (Baby Safe Haven Law) that allows anonymous abandonments. It doesn’t involve complicated documents or providing detailed information. This was developed to save the lives of children that have nowhere to go.
“I am not complaining over nothing. The special adoption law may provide a better life for the children adopted. But we do know this. Before August 2012 when the special adoption law was enacted, the Baby Box used to average two children being abandoned per month.  And now? It has gone up 9 or 10 times to around 20 children per month.  Is it the Baby Box that is causing child abandonment or the special adoption law?”

Also, the Rev. Lee states that the law is weak.
“Call the Ministry of Health and Welfare and see.  Ask what benefits a teen mother can receive. For an unwed father the family registration is impossible by himself. Therefore the adoption is impossible. Who needs to speak for the rights of these people?  In Sweden the country itself takes the responsibilities and helps find the missing birth parents and encourages the parents to be responsible in taking care of their children.  This isn’t done in Korea as this nation essentially says to an unwed mother, ‘You find out the child’s birth father and take care of the situation’. Is this something right for a country that is experiencing a severe population decline?

“The Society Loses If I Do Too Much”
There is a critical needs to take care of the children that have been abandoned.  There is a limit on the number of children that the City of Seoul can take care of.  Regarding this, the Reverend suggests this.

“Is there no solution to the current system? If they can contact 119 (emergency calls), and let them accept the abandoned children, that would be the best solution. There will always be people in standby, they will have the emergency medical system, with good connections to the hospitals. If such systems can be set up at each prefecture in Korea, then this would be wonderful. Why can’t they be doing this?”

Though the Rev. Lee suffers from the arthritis on his left arm, he still takes care of the baby. There is something that he would really want to see happen.
“I think I will be happy when the evilness of the special adoption law is revised and there is no more children abandoned at the Baby Box.  If I work too much, the society suffers.  But these days I have lots of works. It is very frustrating. I am getting old.  Another wish is that for young people to have the right views on sex. Teenagers are taught or tempted to experiment with sex constantly. I think it would be wonderful if the teens are taught to have the right view of sex through a better education.”