Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Some Changes Happening in the Family Court

Since the news from the Family Court in Korea is a public knowledge, I feel now I can share this news even though I knew of the change two months ago. 

As of February 23, 2015, the Family Court has changed the reduction in the number of judges presiding the adoption cases from four to two.  However, the catch is that the two judges will now focus on the adoption cases while paying less focus on the other civil matters related to family issues.

Prior to this, all four judges were assigned with cases dealing with not only adoptions, but other civil and family matters not related to adoption.  With the two judges, they will focus more on adoption cases while providing much experience and expertise related to adoption.

Now the big question is whether the two judges specializing in adoption cases will now be able to process the cases faster (as they should be more focused on adoption), or slower with the reduction of the number of judges to half.

My guess is that the processing time will neither pick up the speed nor slow down.  There is a big uncertainty as one of the two judges is known to be very thorough with his work and takes longer to process, but I am hoping that he will provide quicker service as he is now more focused on the adoption matters.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Final EP Approvals for 2014

I have just learned that the final EPs (Emigration Permit) approved by the Ministry for the year 2014 is 395, the number of children that are allowed to leave Korea to overseas. 

This number was based on the strict guideline set by the Ministry, which applies the 2/3 rule.  This rule is used to determine the number of intercountry adoption permitted based on the number of domestic placements taken by the three agencies (Holt, SWS, and Eastern).  This means that the domestic adoption in Korea (just by the three agencies) is just under 600 for the year 2014.

One note of caution is that not all 395 children have left Korea, as there are many that are still under the court proceedings at the Family Court for the finalization of adoptions.  The Ministry uses the number of EPs approved in a particular year to measure the number of intercountry adoption that took place in that year.

In the year 2013, the EPs approved for intercountry adoption was at 236 children.  Since the final EP for the year 2014 is 395, one may mistakenly assume that Korea is increasing its intercountry adoption.  On the contrary, Korea's goal is to continue to decrease the number of intercountry adoption that takes place. 

The reason for such low number in the year 2013 was that it was the first full-year where the special adoption law was implemented, and under the new law, all three entities involved in adoption - the adoption agencies, the Ministry, and the Family Court had some learning curve on how to implement the new requirements of the law into their daily business rhythm, thus far fewer children were adopted during the process.  Also the Hyunsu O'Callahan's death at the hand of his adoptive father delayed the process as well.

But it is true that the special adoption law has created havoc in the lives of children as much fewer children are being placed into homes.  What used to be over 1400 per year adoption before the new law (just domestic only) is now less than half of what it used to be, and this is a sad reality.

The proponents of the law would like you to think that because of significant increase in unwed mother keeping their babies has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of adoptions, but the reality is that very few are keeping their children, and far too many other children are put into the institutions. 

They also like to point out that the law screens out undesirable parents that may be involved in drugs or alcohol, or other social or psychological ills, but in reality there have been very few who have been denied adoption because of these problems. 

Perhaps the biggest reason for the decline is due to the removal of secrecy in adoption through the special adoption law.  For cultural reasons, a significant number of Koreans still want to keep their adoptions secret and the new law removed this possibility. 

The special adoption law removed the rights of unwed mothers from giving up their children anonymously that has caused so many abandonments in Korea.  In order for them to give their children up for adoption, they are required to register their children into family registries first before being able to give up for adoption. 

The issue is not the registration.  The issue is making this a requirement in order to place a child for adoption.  No unwed mother wants to register her baby she does want to keep.  Giving up children anonymously is practiced in many OECD countries.  Especially in the US, the Baby Safe Haven Law, practiced in all 50 states allows unwed mothers to give up their babies anonymously.  Why can't Korea do the same?

Korea needs to change its policy before it can expect to see the reduction in the number of children being abandoned in places like the Baby Box.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An Unwed Mother's Letter

Just three days ago, a baby was abandoned at the Baby Box with a letter left by a 28 years-old unwed mother.  I have translated her letter to my readers as this is most typical of so many unwed mothers that have abandoned their babies after the special adoption law was enacted in August 5, 2012. 
The Baby the 28 years-old unwed mother abandoned at the Baby Box 

I am a 28 years-old unwed mother.

Everything is at my fault.

Ten months ago I was a working woman, and I didn’t find out about my pregnancy until after six months have passed. 

I drank and smoked a lot, and I sought ways to abort the child by looking for information through internet. 

I had no money to afford an abortion, and I did not have a chance even to buy the baby items. And I knew I could not work as my tummy continued to expand.

I thought about killing both of us together to escape the problem, but that went on for a few months and the baby was born early on February 15th.

I cannot be discovered.  I must resolve this somehow…

I tried this and that, including the option adoption, but was told that the baby’s record will be on my record.

I suppose something could be done if I knew who the father was, but I was involved with many men, and I do not know who it is.

I feel so sad that the baby had to be born from me.  It is because this 28 years-old unwed mother did not deliver a baby with blessings.

I know there are those that eventually speak with their parents to help in their situation to raise the children, but I do not have that kind of courage.

I hope the baby will grow with blessings.

I have lived a failed life for the past 28 years.

I hope the baby will live with a name ‘Hope’ and be healthy…

The baby’s only fault is that she met the wrong mother.

The baby was born on February 15, 2015, around 12:30 AM.
Here's a note from Mrs. Young Ran Jeong, who works at the Baby Box.

This baby came into our care on Monday.
According to the letter left by the 28 years-old unwed mother with a career, experienced an unwanted pregnancy and gave a birth in chaos, and the baby was not even a day old when she came.
What pained me was that the baby had no proper baby clothing, no diaper, but wrapped in an adult neat shirt that had holes. The baby had feces that stuck dry on her buttock and it took some time to wash it off.
The baby was shivering from cold as we washed her in warm water, by then the baby seemed to calm down. It was obvious that the baby was not born in a hospital, and the umbilical cord seemed to have been cut too close, but upon discussion with a children’s hospital I was told that it was OK.
I cannot understand how such a baby could be abandoned like this on a cold winter. As I washed away the dry feces off her body, I comforted myself by saying “Thank you for coming here instead of unknown places.”
The baby is now healthy and takes milk well. She will be in our care for a week before being sent to an institution coming Monday. I ask for your blessings upon this child who had such a traumatic beginning in life.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

One Adoptees Response to the NY Times Article

Here is a response from my adoptee friend Sarah Kim, whom I met in Denver a month ago with her family.  Sarah is happily married to her husband Mike with three girls and a son on the way home from Korea soon.

Sarah (left) with husband Mike and their three daughters, Charlize, Darby, and Mikah

One Adoptee's Response to the NY Times Article by Maggie Jones
I did enjoy reading the article because I enjoy hearing about other adoptees experiences.  From the perspective of a Korean Adoptee, I could relate with many of the things the others said (i.e. the desire to find their roots, facing racism in an all-white community, the lack of understanding from parents, thinking I was white and then wishing I was).  I was able to find my birth family and have visited them twice in the last 12 years.  We continue to have limited “conversations” via Kakao Talk.  And like many others, my documents were “adjusted”.    

I appreciated Ms. Jones providing context on why adoption is relevant to her, all of our views are shaded by our own experiences.  This article is relevant to me because I have a shared experience with the people she interviewed and with her.  My family is in the process of adopting a little boy from S. Korea, we currently have 3 biological daughters. 
One of the adoptees in the article mentioned that adoptees leave their biological families, countries and cultures behind through no choice of their own, but all children come into their cultures, countries and families through no choice of their own.  We do not pick our families. 

I am conflicted about international adoption but believe it is a gray area and not black and white.  While we can debate the reasons why Korea sends children overseas, from the perspective of a child, I believe that every child should grow up in a family.  I am curious what some of the people in the article think will happen to the children that aren’t adopted internationally.

Sarah at 5 months old
I think there are still children that are being given up by their birth parents (just like in America where abortion is legal, there is financial assistance and being a single mom is not as taboo) and I am curious what is going to happen to the generation of children that are growing up in orphanages in Korea instead of with White families in America. My fear is that they will be a generation of orphaned children that will be less educated and with fewer opportunities than internationally adopted kids had and therefore less likely to have the tools to advocate for themselves and the next generation.  It seems like many in the article had a college education and beyond. 

I also appreciated Ms. Jones providing the perspective of adoptees that don’t feel strongly that international adoption should be halted in Korea.  I would have liked to hear more from them, but maybe, like me, they don’t claim to know what the right answer is, so it’s not as interesting to cover. 

I feel like this writing is scattered and I’m trying to stick to my main points, but I’m struggling. There are so many things to say and discuss on the issue that I could go on for a very long time (i.e. loss in adoption, addressing race and culture, feelings about birth family, the current adoption process, etc.). 

Most importantly, I am grateful that Mr. Jones is taking the time to share adoptees’ stories. I would challenge her to present another perspective of international adoption. I would like the world to hear from my perspective as well (i.e. Korean adoptees that found their “Korean roots” in the US and are adopting internationally) because I believe our experience is as valid as all the others she interviewed. I personally know 4 other Korean Adoptees (in addition to myself that have adopted or in the process of adopting). But there are more out there.

Sarah and her adoptive family on an outing

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!