Monday, May 16, 2016

Life of Orphans Aging-Out in Korea

The original article is in the Donga.com news, a major newspaper in Korea. http://news.donga.com/3/all/20160516/78110828/1

Kim (19, right) who is All-Alone, walks with Lee (17) who will age out next year.
 
He was abandoned by his birth parents when he was seven, and grew up in an orphanage in Ansan City in Kyung-gi province. When he turned 18 he had to be on his own (in Korea he is 19 in Korean custom). His entire asset was a meager $5,000. He didn’t even know how to rent a room, and didn’t even know how to pay the electric bill.  He felt abandoned again. 
Kim Min Jae (19), just faced the Adult Day (Morrison’s note: 성년의 , this day was established in 1973, went through some modification with the third Monday of each May being the Adult Day in Korea, applies to only those turning 19 to welcome them into adulthood of responsibility in the society). He stated, “I realized what it means to be all alone. Instead of being congratulated for turning into adulthood, the correct description is how I struggled and survived a year.”

Kim is one of those ‘All-Alone Youths”. They are also called ‘The Terminated Youths’.  The social welfare law requires them to be emancipated from an institution once a youth turns 18.  Each year, there are approximately 2000 youths that become ‘All-Alone Youths’.

The only support they get is the separation pay of $5,000 from the government. Kim was able to save up an additional $1,000 over the years, but he faced a stiff challenge to find a room of his own in the Ansan City where he lived for the past 12 years. He finally settled in the city of Kyung-san in the Kyung-buk province where he knew no one.
Finding a place to live was a daunting task.  He did not know that he had to work through a real estate agent and sign the necessary documents.  At first he spent a week at a sauna facility (Morrison note: Sauna or 찜질방 is a place that people often take bath or sauna and be able to stay for short term), but his water and power was cut off after three months.  He didn’t know the concept of paying the bills. He said, “I would often find some kinds of mail in my box but I put them back in the return box, and didn’t realize those were the bills.”  He said, “No one at the orphanage ever taught me these things. I remember sobbing in a dark room with no electricity.”

The entire asset he had was run dry only after a month.  The room deposit took $3,000, and he spent another $1,000 buying the necessary items to live.  He wanted to study to become a dog trainer and enrolled in a college, but after factoring in the government grant of $2,000 to pay for the $3,200 tuition fees, he was left to pay $1,200 to pay the remaining enrollment fee, and even his emergency fund went dry.
The difficulty of hard living came as quickly as the loneliness.  The basic cost of living of $550, which included $200, with telephone fees and foods were hard to meet each month.  He worked a part time at a coffee shop but quit after two months.  He couldn’t take his time away from studying, which was needed to qualify to maintain his government grant. Due to his part time job, his basic aid in the cost of living stopped as well.  He seriously thought about withdrawing from the school. Nowadays, to save for the cost of school, he has cut down on his food expenses. To hang around with his circle of friends is out of question.
Kim is not so bad as compared to others. Chun (23) was separated from his parents for 20 years, but could not apply for the basic cost of living due to his parents showing enough income (Morrison’s note: Many children in orphanages have parents living, but never visit or support their children). He applied for a basic cost of living to attend a college, but he was told “Your parents must first submit the ‘Termination of Parental Rights’ to qualify.”  He quit the school and got a job instead. Because of the financial difficulties faced by so many All-Alone Youths, most of them choose to work instead of education just so they can survive.  It is believed that 77% of the orphan children desire to go to college, but only 24.1% actually do.
It isn’t that there is no education provided for them.  The Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Age-Out Youth Service provides several educational programs through the orphanages, but the youths usually choose topics like ‘Expressing Myself’ or ‘Cleaning Our House’.  The education programs designed to help with self-sufficiency, such as ‘How to Apply for a Rent’ is chosen by only 1.5% of the youths, and ‘Managing Your Money’ is chosen by less than 10%. There are other small care centers (such as group homes) that are not obligated to teach the similar programs to their youths.  The Age-Out Youth Service worker stated, “We are still in the process of developing more effective pre-separation education programs for the aging-out youths”.
What is most needed is the financial helps for these youths.  A person working at ‘The Beautiful Store’ said that “I have been saving since 2011 to individually support these youths, but the overall attitude of the people in Korea is that ‘Why help the grown up adults?’, which is prevalent in the society and that’s not easy to deal with.”  He also said, “Even though they have turned into adulthood, we must not forget that they are the youths that still need our help and attention.” Park Sul-mi, the Self-Sufficiency Program Director of the Dong Myung Orphanage stated, “Not only the economic help is needed, but they also need post-separation counseling and care services as well.”

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Reality of the Illegal Adoption Market in Korea

The Reality of the Illegal Adoption Market in Korea

This report was translated from the article that was published in the January 7, 2016 issue of The Chosun Daily, a New York Times equivalent newspaper in Korea.  A reporter went undercover to reveal the reality of the illegal adoption market in Korea. 
As I have stated several times before, the special adoption law took away the rights of those adoptive parents in Korea that still wish to keep their adoptions secret.  This was one of the biggest reasons for such a significant decline in the number of domestic adoption.  What used to be over 1400 domestic adoptions per year dropped down to less than 700 domestic adoptions.  And I also did mention that illegal internet adoption is quiet sizable and would probably make up the difference not seen in the recent years after the passage of the special adoption laws in Aug 2012.  This article by the Chosun Daily seems to validate my earlier claims on the real reasons why the domestic adoption was halved by the special adoption law. Many parents in Korea still wish to keep their adoptions secret, and the current law does not allow it, thus making many to choose illegal adoptions.

The original link of the story in Korean can be found in: http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2016/01/07/2016010700364.html

 
Reporters note:
“When a message “I want to adopt” was sent, the cost of introduction was $1000, an unwed mother signed a statement of “no contact”, the adopting mom acted as a birthmother in an OB/GYN clinic…and registered the baby under her name.”

This illegal adoption happens several tens of times a day…
The parents that want to adopt secretly, and the unwed mothers that want to erase their pasts

Ever since the news of a woman in her early 20s took in six children by paying money and even registering the babies under her family registry, the truth is now coming out on the existence of illegal adoption market.
On January 6th The Chosun Ilbo (Newspaper) discovered a posting on a portal site by a high school girl with a message ‘I am 8 months pregnant and is there a way to adopt away my child without my parents finding out?’.  There was a response message that said, ‘I will help you. You may call me’ and left a phone number to call.

An undercover reporter responded to the posted phone number with a message ‘I want to adopt a child without going through an agency. Is this possible?’
Within a few minutes there was a phone call from a woman in her 50s. She said,
“I work in the new born baby section of an OB/GYN clinic as a nurse, and I want to introduce you to an unwed mother who may abandon her baby and I feel bad for this child.”


The reporter told her that ‘I would prefer a girl’, and the woman called the reporter back in an hour saying, “I want to introduce you to an unwed mother who lives in Seoul Kangsuh District.”  She asked the reporter to set the date and place where the baby can be transferred. 
When asked how much she charges for the introduction, the woman broker said, “I usually charge around $1000.  Because the unwed mothers want to erase any memory of giving birth, you do not need to pay the unwed mother.”

The current special adoption law requires the adopting parents to adopt through an agency, and receive the adoption approval ruling from the family court.  To do this it is necessary to have a birth registration by the birth parents.  But the method the broker uses does not involve the court system.
When an unwed mother is pregnant, the adopting mother registers her own name as the birthmother at an OB/GYN clinic.  When a baby is born, the baby is registered under the woman who is adopting. This is so that when the new mother reports the baby at a local government office, she needs the birth registry as a proof.  Since the adopting mother was acting like a birthmother before the baby was born, there was no need for her to follow the legal method of adoption process. 

The broker stated, “This is how I introduced two or three other unwed mothers’ babies before.  You never need to worry about anything as I make an unwed mother sign the paper that says, ‘I will never see the baby nor the person adopting the child’. So all the backdrop work is done by me so you don’t need to worry.”
This type of adoption is practiced by the adoptive parents that do not want their children to learn of their adoptions later in life. But if one follows the legal form of adoption, his social ID card documentation will have a record of ‘adoption’, which might reveal to the child that he/she was adopted.   

Not only the transfer of a child between the two persons is involved, but they can adopt by choosing a gender or the blood type, and this is another reason for many choosing illegal adoption.  And the unwed mothers that do not wish to be identified and remain anonymous on their birth giving, the advantages of the illegal adoption market are very attractive.
The experts all agree that this type of adoption is being carried out rampantly.  In the internet portal site, they call this type of adoption as ‘personal adoption’, and each day there are multiple tens of postings by people that want to practice the ‘personal adoption’.

The broker I spoke with said, “If you let me know the gender and the blood type preference I can find a baby for you.”  At first the broker said to the reporter “I may have an unwed mother who is 30 weeks into her pregnancy living in Daegu”, but when the reporter said that she wanted a girl, the broker then introduced an unwed mother that had the similar months of pregnancy that lived Seoul Kangsuh District. 

In 2014 there were 637 children adopted legally in domestic Korea.  A person in an adoption agency stated that she saw some adoptive parents that came to them because they couldn’t find ways to illegally adopt children. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Adoption, EP, and Court Status in Korea as 2015 Closes

I realize that I haven't shared for a long time the current adoption happenings in Korea.  I apologize for the delay in providing the latest information.  But to be frank, not much improvements or good news have been available to share. 

It appears that the total number EPs granted for the year 2015 is going to be around 320 - 330. This is the combined total for all three agencies.  This is consistent based on the projected domestic placements, which is around 440 for all three agencies.  Again the '2/3' rule still in place. I need to revisit these numbers next year and give you more accurate count.

But the Family Court process is flowing smoothly with no issue so far.  I'm told that the court process (from the time of the paper submission to the finalization) takes around 2 - 3 months nowadays.

Ever since the Special Adoption Law was placed, hundreds of babies are continuing to be abandoned, and frequent news stories of the babies being killed and discarded in Korea are still common place. There is some movement to revise the law to enable the agency heads to register for the babies being abandoned and make them available for at least the domestic adoption.

The number of children available for adoption is continuing to decline. While there are some factors to consider such as better sex education to avoid pregnancies, some unwed mothers choosing to keep their children, and many illegal internet adoptions, but I am quite positive that the greatest contributor to the reduction in the number of children is due to the sheer number of abortions taking place in Korea.  While there is no definite data on this, many unwed mothers choose to abort their babies rather than face the complexity of registering their babies and face the risk of raising them in a society that does not embrace them well.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Interview with Mr. Kim, Sunup - An Orphan Who Never Got Adopted

This is a story of my childhood friend Kim Sunup, who never got adopted and aged out of the Holt orphanage at 18.  A few years ago, I had an interview with him as I wanted the returning adoptees participating at the 2010 IKAA Gathering in Seoul to meet him and hear his side of the story of not having been adopted and aged out.

Each time I visit Korea, I try to meet with my friends Kim Sunup and Kim Chulsoo (whose story I featured in my previous blog).  The three of us were very close to one another at the orphanage we lived. I got adopted out at the age 14, but my two friends never got adopted and stayed in Korea, and struggled through their lives. While I was driven to study in a major university to become an Aerospace Engineer, half way across the ocean were my two friends, as they lived at one time as homeless in the streets.

Today Sunup owns and operates small sign making business nearby Il-San City, where he is able to make ends meet.


I met up with Kim Sunup at Seoul Station in Korea two weeks ago.
 
Here is the interview content with my friend Kim Sunup


Interview with Mr. Kim, Sunup

An Orphan Who Never Got Adopted

(Interviewed by Steve Morrison at the IKAA Session, Aug 4, 2010)

 

Q: Please introduce yourself

   본인 소개를 주십시요.

A: 저는 나이가 56 이며, 현재 일산에서 인쇄/도장 사업을 하고 있습니다. 결혼을 해서 아내랑 어려움 없이 살고 있습니다.

   I am 56 years old and live in Il-San and I have a printing and stamp carving business.  I am married and live comfortably with my wife.
 

Q: Did you live in an orphanage as a child?

   김선업씨 께서는 어렸을때에 고아원에서 사셨지요?

A: 그렇습니다.

   Yes, I did.

 
Q: At what age were you admitted to the orphanage, and how long did you live in that facility?

   몇살때에 고아원에 들어가게 되었고, 또한 몇년동안 시설에서 자라야 했는지요?

A: 저는 _7살때에 고아원에 들어갔습니다. 그리고 저는 11년동안 그곳에서 살았지요.

  I was admitted to the orphanage at 7 years old.  I lived there for 11 years.  

 
Q: How was your experience in living in the orphanage?

   고아원에서의 삶은 어떴나요?

A: 지금 기억해 보면 좋은점도 있었고 않좋은점도 있었다고 봅니다. 좋은점은 많은 친구들과 살면서 재미있는 시간을 많이 가졌던 기억이 납니다. 반면에 저는 가정을 그리워 하면서 살아왔는데 그때당시 친구들 한분 한분씩 미국으로 입양을 가는것을 보면 무척 부러웠지요.

   When I think about it now there were some good memories as well as bad memories.  The good memories are the times when I spent with my friends having lots of fun.  But the bad memories were the times when I sincerely wished that I had a family of my own, and I still remember watching my friends get adopted abroad one by one and remember feelings of envy in my heart.

 
Q: When did you come out of the orphanage?

   고아원에서 언제 나오시게 되었나요?

A: 제가 18 되었는데 하루는 저희를 담당하는 원장님이 와서 갑자기 저보고 나가라고 하셨지요. 18세가 되었으니 이제 나가야한다고 그래습니다. 저는 그때 말을 듣고 너무나 당황했습니다.

When I turned 18, my orphanage director who was in charge of us came to me suddenly and said that I must leave the facility.  Because I have just turned 18 the director said that I had to leave. When I heard those words I was very shocked.

 
Q: Did the orphanage provide any preparation for you to leave?

   그럼 고아원에서 퇴소할때에 어느정도의 준비를 하고 나가셨나요?

A: 전혀 준비가 없었습니다. 저를 내보내면서 제게 10만원 원을 주셨습니다. 그러나 그것은 몇일가지 않았지요.  또한 제가 어떤 기술을 배운것도 없고 취직을 없는 상태에 그냥 저보고 나라가 해가지고 몹시 불안했습니다.

    Absolutely none.  The director gave me $100 when he sent me out.  But that lasted only a few days.  It was very upsetting to hear that I had to leave since the orphanage had taught me no special skills and I could not be employed.

 
Q: So it must have been very difficult for you to survive day to day.

시설에서 나온후 하루 하루 살아가기가 너무도 힘들었겠네요.

A: 그럼요. 하루 하루 살면서 식사가 언제 어디서 올지도 모른 상태였죠.  그때 정말로 힘들었습니다.

   That’s right.  Every day I had to survive not knowing where my next meal would be coming from.  It was the most difficult time of my life.

 
Q: Was it typical at the time that when an orphan turns 18 he had to leave the orphanage?  Was this practice applied to just your orphanage or was it applied to all the other orphanages in Korea?

   그당시에는 고아들이 18세가 되면 그렇게 나와야 했나요?  김선생님께서 계신 고아원만 그랬나요 아니면 한국에 모든 고아원이 비슷하게 아이들을 퇴소 시켰나요?

A: 제가 기억하기로는 대부분의 고아들이 그런 상태로 퇴소 당했지요.

   As far as I know that was typical of how the orphans were forced out.

 
Q: Mr. Kim, you have my deepest admiration and respect that despite all the incredible sufferings that were dealt to you and you still did not give up and have raised yourself up to where you are today.

   엄청난 고통과 역경을 겪으면서 그래도 포기하지 않으시고 열심히 살아온 결과 오늘 이렇게 당당하게 계시는 김선업씨를 존경합니다.

 
Q: However, do the orphanages still require children to leave institutions when they turn 18?

   그런데 지금도 고원에서는 아이들을 18세가 되면 내보내나요?

A: 지금도 그렇게 하고 있는것으로 알고 있습니다. 다만 요새는 퇴소하는 아이들을 위한 준비를 많이 해주고 있는것 같습니다. 많은 생활비를 주고 또한 기술도 가르쳐서 보낸다고 들었는데, 그래도 너무나 부족합니다. 그래서 시설을 퇴소하는 아이들은 사회에 나가서 힘들게 살고있는것은 아직도 사실입니다.

   I believe that is still the case.  But nowadays they are doing more to prepare the outgoing orphans.  I believe they give more money and teach them some skills, but that is still not enough.  So it is still very challenging for them to survive in the real world once they leave the orphanages

 
Q: If you had a wish in the past what would that have been?

   김선생님께서 과거에 바램이 있었다면 그것은 어떤것이었을까요?

A: 저는 공부를 하기 좋아했습니다. 공부를 열심히 해서 훌륭한 사람이 되기를 꿈을 가진적이 있었지요. 그래서 저는 미국으로 입양을 가기 원했습니다. 그러나 저에게는 그런 기회가 없었지요.  고아로서 한국에서 대학을 간다는것은 그때당시 괭장히 힘들었습니다.

   I enjoyed studying.  I had a dream of becoming someone and have a successful life.  I had hoped that I would be adopted to America. But I wasn’t given that choice.  At the time it was almost impossible for an orphan to go to a college.

 
Q: As I listen to your story, I feel so sorry that you weren’t given that opportunity.  Do you have anything to say to all the visiting adoptees here?

, 김선생님의 말을 들으니 정말로 아쉬운 마음이 앞서네요.  그럼 이시간 이자리에 계시는 해외입양인들에게 하시고 싶은 말씀은 무엇일까요?

A: 해외입양인들이 건강하게 자라서 한국을 나오게 된것을 볼때에 너무나 자랑스럽습니다. 제가 갖고 싶은 기회를 여러분들은 입양을 통해서 갖게 되었습니다.   하시는 일에 혹은 공부하는 일에 열심히 하셔서 보다 훌륭한 사람들이 되기를 진심으로 바랍니다.

   I am very proud of the fact that all of you have grown healthy and that you have returned to visit Korea.  You were given the opportunity that I so desired to have.  But I sincerely wish that all of you will do your best in your profession or your studies and strive to be a greater person.