Tuesday, July 26, 2011

TV Campaign for Orphans – Restores Human Rights, not the Opposite

There is a bitter conflict between the pro-adoption organizations and the anti-adoption organizations in Korea.  On the pro-adoption side MPAK is teamed with the adoption agencies and the Korean Government’s Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), and the other side is represented by KoRoots, adoptee organizations called TRACK and ASK, and the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Networks (KUMSN). 
With the recent Korean Government’s implementation of a stricter control on abortion practices and limiting the number of children being adopted abroad through the quota system have resulted in overabundance of homeless children in Korea.  As of last May, there have been over 1800 babies in Korea that have no place to go.  Adoption agencies are filled to capacity to handle additional intakes, and they have in fact started turning away the birthmothers wanting to relinquish their unplanned pregnancies. 
It was 1800 in May. By now it may be over 2000.  Seeing this tragedy, MPAK in Korea has worked with MOHW and the domestic adoption agencies to produce the PSAs to find homes for these children domestically.  Initially we produced 30 such PSAs on 30 different babies that needed homes.   Each PSA is only one minute long and features one baby.  The images of the babies in the PSAs are real, but pseudo names are used to protect their identities.  The PSA provides no other identifying information other than some description on how cute the babies are and what their personality traits are.  At the bottom of each PSA lists the names of the domestic adoption agencies that the viewers can contact to learn more on the babies.  Each PSA concludes with a remark like, “…who would be the mother and father for this baby...”
A screen shot of a PSA - Kim, Yul (not real name), 6 months old. The small letters in the logo on the upper right side says, "Campaign to Find Families"

Another screen shot of a PSA featuring Jang, Woojin (not real name), (4 mos).

Just a meager 30 PSAs out of 1800 babies that need homes were produced initially.  The idea for the PSA was formed when we learned this is how things are done in the US with programs such as “Wednesday’s Child” broadcast featuring children in need of homes.  To learn more about this, in April 2011 MPAK and MOHW from Korea visited and interviewed the adoption experts in the US State Department and the Adoption Exchange.  There we learned that the success rate for the programs such as “Wednesday’s Child” is staggering 70%, as that many featured children would find homes.  So we wanted to use the similar strategy to find homes for the 1800 babies that have no place to go.  So producing the 30 PSAs was a start.
Initially the PSAs were being broadcasted through a Christian Broadcasting Station (CBS) in Korea.  They started to broadcast three PSAs each day.  However, within a day or two of the broadcast, there were several protests against the station to immediately stop the broadcast, claiming that featuring of the babies through such means is an infringement of human rights violation.  The person who led this charge was Rev. Kim Dohyun of KoRoots, who has always spoken out against adoption, whether be it intercountry or domestic.
He has been a strong advocate of birthmothers’ rights. That in and of itself is a good cause and somebody needs to advocate on behalf of them to provide economic and social environment for the birthmothers that want to keep their babies.   However, where he is very wrong is that he blames adoption for the cause of separation of children from their birthmothers. So he feels the need to speak against any form of adoption both domestic and intercountry. 
What he fails to recognize is that adoption is a response to already separated children, not the other way around.  Each year there are so many more birthmothers that choose to give up their babies than those that want to keep them. So his effort to speak against adoption is falling on deft ears.  Last year I remember being in a same meeting sponsored by the Korean government on an adoption forum, and he remarked that he will run a campaign to remove The National Adoption Day (May 11) in Korea.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and so did many others in the room.  Of course, he will never succeed in this.
Regarding the PSAs to find homes for the children, his reasoning is that using the actual images of children in the PSAs is to commercialize the adoption using children, thus this is a violation of human rights. That using their real images violates children’s rights to privacy.  In a country where adoption is often practiced secretly, the PSAs represented a dramatic new approach to the adoption promotion where the majority of Korean nationals were not familiar with.  Rev. Kim called on the National Human Rights Commission in Korea to investigate the whole matter.
However, having known the Rev. Kim over several years and being familiar with his work, I believe his real motives for the accusation stems more from his opposition to adoption rather than human rights reasons.    To his perspective, there are 1800 birthmothers that deserve to raise their own children, and the PSAs will take that opportunity away from the birthmothers.  However, he does not want to admit the fact that those 1800 birthmothers have willingly abandoned their children and don’t want them back.  Not surprisingly, Rev. Kim wasn’t the only one that protested against the broadcasting of the PSAs.
The CBS TV station, upon hearing the complaints from several people, decided to temporarily hold off the broadcast as they did not want to be in the middle of a conflict that might risk the status as a Christian broadcast station.  It was a very disappointing decision, but I was able to understand their predicament as well.
Upon viewing the PSAs, the Human Rights Commission issued a stated position that the PSAs violated the Human Rights.  It was yet another blow in our efforts to find homes.  Upon reading their explanation, they did not object to adoption promotion, but objected in the method of using the actual images to promote the cause for children and feared that their interests may not be best served through transparency in adoption rather than secrecy. 
It was obvious that the Commission had a bias against the transparent adoption, which they were quiet ignorant.  They were not aware that the adoption culture in Korea was moving fast towards transparent adoption culture rather than the traditional secret adoption practices.  Adoption agencies have shown that more than 50% of the couples are now choosing to be transparent in their adoptions. 
I wrote an email to the Commission explaining why the PSAs are not a violation of human rights but an effort to establish human rights for homeless children.  I reasoned that if Korea doesn’t invest in one minute of effort to find a home for a child, he/she may grow up in an institution for 18 years, and deprived of a family that would become even greater form of child abuse and human rights violation.  It doesn’t end in 18 years.  The impact and the consequences of having lived in an institution will follow the rest of child’s life.  I challenged them by stating that either choose one minute or choose 18 years of misery and suffering.  Thus the PSAs was an effort to restore the human rights for the homeless children, not the other way around.
The Human Rights Commission in Korea has not responded to my email.  Thus I have concluded that the Human Rights Commission in Korea is really out of touch with the reality and I hold them in contempt for blocking the opportunities for children to grow up in homes. 
Interestingly enough, when we (MPAK and MOHW) met earlier in April 2011 with the representatives from the US State Department and the Adoption Exchange, we asked a few questions regarding the possibility that some may object to the PSAs by taking issues that it violates privacy and human rights.  Their answers were very candid.  They stated, “That sort of opposition is seen even in the US, but we just ignore them.  There will always be some who will take issue with this approach to find homes, but the results show that PSAs do work and so many children have found homes.  What could be more important that?”  I guess another question can be raised by asking, “What are the opponents of the TV campaign doing to help those homeless children?”- Absolutely nothing.
Despite some criticisms, The US government took the position that best serves the needs of children by implementing numerous TV campaigns and other programs to find homes for so many children.   I hope the Korean Human Rights Commission and the leaders of the Korean government would come to their senses and follow the example from the greatest democracy in the world.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Explanation for the Slow Exit Permits from Korea

I made phone calls last night to talk with an agency and the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) representative to find out why there has been noticeable delays in the Exit Permit (EP) granted recently.  Normally once an adoption agency files an EP request with MOHW, it usually takes a month or so to get MOHW to clear it.  As of today, there are EPs that were submitted in May of this year that have not been approved yet. This has brought a lot of anxiety among the waiting families whether their children will come home or not.

For those of you who are not too familiar with the intercountry adoption (ICA) process, EP is like the last hurdle in the long process where the Korean Government (or MOHW) finally approves that a child may exit the country to be placed overseas. Once an EP has been granted, the parents are notified by an agency when the child will arrive home.  The EP requests are made by the agencies when the number of adoption placements by the agency falls within the allotted quota limitation assigned by MOHW.  If an assignment of a child is beyond that quota, then the family must wait until the next year to get the child home.

In talking with MOHW, the delays are a deliberate attempt by them to make the adoption agencies comply with their agreement to provide documents related to post adoption placements.  To elaborate on this the domestic adoption agencies in Korea (Holt, Eastern, SWS, & KSS) have an agreement to provide post adoption placement reports back to MOHW, and for many years this part of the adoption process has been ignored by both the adoption agencies and MOHW.  I say both because the adoption agencies have not been compliant on this agreement and MOHW for not having requested this until this year.  So for over 50 years of ICA, MOHW has finally found a clause in the agreement that this portion of the agreement was not being faithfully followed by the agencies. According to MOHW, the post placement service agreement requires the agencies to report on a child until he/she is issued a US citizenship. 

This all came about when a question was raised by a government representative in Korea on how they are to know how well the adopted children are coping with their new environment overseas.  At this MOHW could not answer, so they turned to the agencies to provide them with an answer on post placement reports of children and whether they knew what percentage of children they have placed have the US citizenship.  The agencies didn't know either.  So the MOHW has requested the agencies to provide the post placement reports and a data on the number of children that have been issued the US citizenship.  In the mean time all the EP requests filed with MOHW would be put on hold until the agencies comply.

I tried to reason with MOHW that granting EPs to the waiting children and the domestic agencies complying with the post placement clause seem to be two separate issues, thus EPs should be allowed so that children will go to their homes.  But MOHW stated that they would not be able to release the EPs without the agencies' cooperation on providing post placement reports.  They reasoned that for many years the agencies only cared about sending children abroad, but showed no interest in how children are adjusting to their new environment, thus there is no way to substantiate to those questioning on how the adopted children are doing.
MOHW maintained that this is one area that must be cleared by the agencies for them to get the waiting children released for adoption.

After much wrangling between the MOHW and the agencies, I am happy to report that today (as of 7/19/11 blog) that all four agencies have agreed to sit down with the MOHW to show that they do indeed can provide the post placement reports in the hope of getting the EPs cleared.  I don't know what will come out of this meeting, most likely a determination by MOHW on requesting additional data until they are satisfied.  MOHW has however given some relaxation to agencies as they seem to understand that to gather so may post placement reports at one time is impossible for the agencies.  So the MOHW has asked the agencies to provide the post placement service reports on those children that were placed January and February of this year.  And that the post placement reports must be provided from now on.  Based on MOHW's review of the reports, they may or may not grant EPs, but I am sure the agencies will do all they can to cooperate to resolve this matter as soon as possible.

Please keep on praying for all those involved in the process, that God's wisdom that always advocates for the best interest of children will prevail and that they will all come home soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Emile Mack's Story at the MPAK-LA Region Gathering

The MPAK-LA Region met at Haram's house (Henry and Miyon Hough) on June 25th.  This blog is wee bit late due to my work travels, and other pressing matters.  The Houghs did a fantastic job in hosting the gathering, which was attended by 13 families.  With a plenty of space for kids to play, and with a great company of people, topped with sumptuous dinner was fabulous. 

The main story of the evening belonged to Emile and Jenny Mack as they shared their story of adopting Miya, who came last year.  Emile shared his story through a slide show that chronicled the adoption adventure that began when they came to the MPAK picnic in May 2008.  After much wrangling with the adoption process due to his age limitation, where Emile and I visited Korea together to resolve this, Miya finally came home.  Both Emile and Jenny are very happy and having lots of fun spending time with Miya. 

Emile is one of the most successful adoptees I met, as he has a very close ties to his parents that were African-Americans.  A very unusual type of adoption, but his parents have molded and inspired Emile to become who he is today.  Today he is the Deputy Fire Chief of the Los Angeles Fired Department overseeing 4000 employees as the No. 2 man in the department.  Both Emile and Jenny wanted a daughter to make a complete family.  But Emile also wanted to give back to the adoption, which he feels has blessed him very much.  You may read more about his fascinating stories with pictures as he was featured in the KoreaAm magazine not too long ago at:  http://iamkoream.com/where-i-come-from/

The surprising part of all, and a very pleasant one, is how Miya resembles so much like her father in looks as if she was born from him and Jenny.  The slide presentation culminated with the scenes from their celebration of Miya's first birthday celebration.  It was a beautiful presentation, and a beautiful story.  We wish all the happiness and blessings to the Mack family.

Emile, Jenny, and Miya shared their adoption story at the gathering.

This is Haram's House where we met.

In the kitchen area where the sumptuous dinner was served

Some of the dinner spread
Me in red conducting the meeting and introducing Emile
Emile shares his adoption story

A group photo of the MPAK-LA families