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.