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'.

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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.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Age Waiver Relaxed for Previously Adopted Couples

Some of you have already heard this news.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea (MOHW) has relaxed the age requirement for couples to apply for adoption up to 49 for those that have previously adopted from Korea, effective August 1, 2014.

For those families that want to adopt another child from Korea, this is great news.

The new guideline also clarifies the age limits for the Korean-heritage families and adoptee couples, but this practice was already in place since 2007, though some agencies may not have followed closely on this.

For those that are adopting for the first time from Korea, the age requirement is 45 at the time of application (some agencies confuse this as the time when the MOHW approves the adoption).  But the agencies may have already put in place for people to allow enough time by applying at 42 or as late as 43.  But in my previous email inquiries to MOHW, they were very clear that the age is applicable at the time of application, not at the time of approval by the MOHW.

I will double check on this fact and get back to you.

A special permission will be given to prospective adoptive parents up to age 49 as long as they meet one of the below requirements:

1. Both prospective adoptive parents are Korean-heritage.
2. One prospective adoptive parent is a Korean adoptee.
3. The prospective adoptive parents already have a Korean adopted child.

I think I understand why this new guideline is being placed.  It is perhaps to shorten the adoption process, where the home study is already available, and also the psychological evaluation already being available as well.  Also, there is already an established trust where a family that has already adopted a child from Korea and does well, will most likely be trusted again with another child.

So for those who wanted to adopt again but couldn't because of the age limitation, this is your chance.

At any rate, this is a great news to many prospective parents and for children as well, only if more children are allowed to leave Korea to go to their homes.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Revision to Forego the Unannounced Family Visitation Requirement in the Law

Just recently, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) has announced that it will forego the requirement in the Special Adoption Law that called for unannounced family visitations by the agencies during the home study period (Art 8, Sec. 3).

The MOHW has changed its mind upon further review of this issue that many times the agencies would waste their time visiting the families that are not at homes, and the unannounced visitation would amount to violating privacy rights of the families involved. In the litigation conscious country like the US, this is an important factor for both agencies and the families being visited unannounced. 
This issue has nothing to do with the death of Hyusu O’Callaghan and the mass it created aftermath.  But the unannounced visitation was articulated in the law well before the boy’s tragedy.
Instead of the unannounced visit, the MOHW has decided to accept a total of three (3) reference letters, signed and notarized.  Of the three letters, one can be from a relative, and the other two should be from close friends, co-workers, supervisors, pastors, etc.

How is this letter different from the reference letters requested by the agencies during the home study period?  Nothing. Except that the letters now have to be signed and notarized. So, for those who are already in the process, it may mean that you will have to obtain the original letters from your agencies, or write additional reference letters (as some agencies required only two letters before).  If you have already submitted the letters, you are required to have the original reference letters signed and notarized.

Fortunately, the letters may be from the same individuals who wrote them for the home study, but must be freshly signed/notarized - keeping in mind that only one may be from a relative.  The letters should be kept to one page in length.
If you are one of the families affected by this new change, you should hear from your agency soon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Penalties for the Agencies If Domestic Adoption Efforts Not Made

This is in the news in several newspapers in Korea today.  The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) has warned the three adoption agencies that it will order the agencies the work shutdown penalty from 7 - 15 days if the agencies do not comply with the mandates of the special adoption law to give priority for domestic adoption over intercountry adoption.

This came about during the audit of an agency, where in 15% of the cases there was no adequate efforts to place the children domestically first (that means in 85% of the cases the agency clearly showed that there were efforts to find homes domestically). 

While the agencies have kept the records of their efforts to place the children domestically and this record was shown in the audit, the MOHW faulted the agency in their failure to work with the central adoption database created by the Korea Adoption Services (KAS), where the children's information could be shared with another agency, which in turn might be able to find a home through its network.  In other words, if Holt has a child they are having some difficulty in placing within Korea, Holt is to share that child's data through KAS' database, so another agency like Eastern or SWS may try to find a home within Korea.  Whether this effort is in addition to the five-months holding period or that this is to be done within the five-months period, I'm not sure.  I would think that this should be done within the five-months holding period.

Apparently this component of the domestic placement effort wasn't being done to the satisfaction of the MOHW.  The special adoption law requires this, and this process of working through the database is still a work in progress between the agencies and the KAS. By instituting the penalty of closing down the agency for 7 to 15 days, the MOHW is squeezing the necks of the agencies to comply quicker.

As for the family court, I hear that the judges will be taking vacations from July 20th to August 10th. Not all of them will take the vacation at the same time. However, it does not mean that the other judges will take over the cases assigned to the vacationing judges.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Legacy of a Father

My parents John and Margaret Morrison at their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 2001

On my way to work the other day, I was listening to a radio show where the speaker asked the audience, "What kind of legacy would you want to leave with your children when you are gone?"  I was very challenged by the question and throughout the day, and even to this day, I ask myself the same question.  What legacy do I want to leave for my children?

A pastor named John Maxwell really knew what he was talking about when he defined what success means.  He said, “Success is having those who are the closest to me love and respect me the most.” Of all the definitions of success I have heard in the world, this one got to be one of the best so far.

In thinking of the legacy, it was very natural that I think of my father, John Morrison, who passed away in March 2006.  If my love and respect for my father could be measured by any means, he would be easily considered one of the most successful persons that have ever lived for the great legacy he left for me.  This is coming not just from me, but from my four other siblings, and my 90 years old mother who still lives.

I still remember the many precious conversations I had with my Mom and Dad, and how they always relished in sharing the stories from their past. My Dad especially relished the story on how he got me. 
One night in early 1969, my Mom and Dad, who already had three children by birth and adopted a ten years old Amerasian boy from Korea a year earlier, was looking through a bimonthly newsletter from Holt and saw many children that needed homes.  They were listed with their pictures and brief descriptions.

My Mom casually asked Dad a question, “Should we adopt another child from Korea?” She asked the question partly out of her compassion for the children, and partly to test how Dad would react. To such question, Dad’s reply was simply, “Which one do you want?”  At which Mom was taken back with such a strong and positive reply from Dad.
Together they glanced through many pictures of boys and girls in the newsletter. As they looked at the pictures, one picture of a boy caught the eyes of my father.  He looked at him, and something in him pulled him towards the boy so strongly that he knew as soon as he saw him that the boy was his son.  Dad pointed his finger to the boy’s picture and said, “This is the one.”

But my Mom wasn’t so sure. It was mainly because the boy was described as a 13 years-old, and that concerned her.  She said, “Oh no, not a 13 years old, he is too old. But how about this one? He’s only eight.” To which my Dad firmly replied. “No. This is the boy. I know this is my son.” This didn’t please my Mom at all, and she picked another boy of nine years old. Dad shook his head and said, “I made up my mind. This is him.” Mom tried another child, but Dad was very set in his heart.

Mind you my Dad rarely displayed the character of stubbornness, and it was usually Mom who got her ways as Dad was always agreeable to please Mom, but not this time. Something in him told him that the boy, who would later become Steve Morrison, was his son.  Out of desperation Mom consulted the boy (James) they adopted earlier, and he said without hesitation, “Get him!”  That settled it. Of course James knew me from the same orphanage.
For many years after my arrival into the home, Dad would occasionally tell this story before me and other visitors with such pride, and Mom would go along with great joy at the risk she took. I never once got bored of hearing the story again and again. Each time I felt a great sense of gratitude as I reflected on their story.

For many years to follow up to the time of his death my father set before me a strong role model of a fatherhood that I never had before.  The way he loved Mom, the way he loved and cared for us, and the sacrifices he made on behalf of our family.  He would get a special loan just to pay my for my college expenses and would not say anything about it.  He would tell me not to worry about money, just focus on my studies. My college expense was more than that of all the other siblings combined.  It would be several years after my graduation that I would learn about the loan.  When I finally learned of it, I was deeply moved.
His love for me expressed in words still rings in my ears after all these years.  “When we adopted you we did it to help you, as you had no family.  But after all these years, it is we who have been blessed so much more through you.”

I could never forget the time when he pulled me aside and said, “I have made some very important decisions in my lifetime.  The best decision was to believe in God, the second best decision was to marry your mother, and the third best decision was to have you in our family.”
My father left a legacy of love and respect that he did not try to earn. He simply live it as what he knew was his duty discharged by God.  He set before me sound principles of life to follow, and what it means to live as a servant of God.

As I reflect on the immensity of the legacy that my father left for me, I am challenged to leave a legacy that will be claimed by my children one day. The legacy that I can only imitate the one left by my father, who chose me that one night, thousands of miles across the Pacific.

Friday, June 6, 2014

No Delays in EP or Court Process Anticipated.

The EP process is moving on with no stopping. 
This also goes for the family court proceedings, there is no stoppage.

The only potential slow down might be due to vacation day choices the family court judges may take, which usually peak in the month of July and August.
 
Recently, however, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) has put into the regulation the requirement by the agencies to make unannounced visits to potential adoptive families that are in the homestudy stage.  This type of visit requirement does not include the visits during the post-adoption study period.

To the person I talked on this, I stated that this will not sit well with the American culture (probably European culture as well), where any visit by anyone is usually known ahead of time, and to do otherwise would be considered a bad manner. 

The agencies in Korea are pushing back on this as they are acutely aware of the families' reactions to this.  They are collecting data from the US and Europe to determine if any other countries are excercising this practice.  The idea behind the unnounced visit is to catch a family by surprise and see how bad (or good) the candidate adoptive families are living in a normal day-to-day environment. 

I think this is a very poorly thought out regulation, and I am not sure where and how they got such idea of having a 'Big Brother is Watching You' type of idea, but if I had to guess, it probably is an after thought that came out of Hyunsu O'Calaghan's tragedy. 

Also, a foster mother in Korea was leaving the children in her home to tend to other things. When one day social worker visited the home unannounced, they found the child by himself.  The agecy decided to remove the child from the foster mother.  That child was Hyunsu. 

During the high media coverage on Hyunsu, the foster mother went on the media blaming the agency for denying her request to adopt Hyunsu, but in fact the truth was that she never followed through the adoption request. 

The unannounced visit regulation is not yet finalized, but I am thinking (and hoping) it woudn't go through.