Monday, August 15, 2011

Will the ICA Program in Korea Come to an End?

Will the Intercountry Adoption (ICA) program in Korea come to an end?  This question has been around for as long as I can remember.  And this question will certainly generate uncertainties and discomforts for many wishing to adopt children from Korea.  In this blog my aim is to look at this uncertainty in a bigger perspective and show that while the ICA in Korea is unstable and going through a lot of transition, it isn’t all doom and glooms either.  

The ICA program in Korea will certainly come to an end unless Korea adopts and ratifies The Hague Adoption Convention (hereafter called ‘Hague Convention’ or ‘Convention’).  The Hague Convention proposes the three priorities in the welfare of children.  The first is to make every attempt to return the children to their biological families.  If that doesn’t work the second option is to place the children domestically within the country of origin.  When that option doesn’t work the third option is to place the children overseas.  So far, every indication seems to show that this is the direction that Korea is going.

Korea is trying to gear up to adopt the Hague Convention, but they are at odds with a few requirements dealing with how to implement the Hague Convention.  One of the requirements by the Convention is for a country to have a centralized adoption authority to control and manage the welfare of homeless children from the time they become homeless to the time they get placed in homes.  In Korea, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) is the central authority, and they have established the Korean Central Adoption Resources (KCARE) to develop and implement the database system to track all the homeless children in Korea (whether they are in orphanages or in custody of adoption agencies) and if possible to have database on birth families.  In most cases the adoption agencies will be the keepers of the information related to privacy matters on the children they serve, i.e. information regarding birthmothers, etc. 

But one issue thing that supersedes all the Hague matter is whether Korea would want to continue to allow their children to be adopted abroad at all (the third option for Hague), and there is a plenty of opposition to this.  Thus the struggle is there for Korea whether to ratify the Convention or not.  If they ratify, they are essentially allowing ICA to continue.  If they don’t, then ICA will certainly come to an end.  But I strongly believe Korea will eventually ratify the Convention. 

Even if Korea ratifies the Hague Convention, my concern is that even with all the effort is made by Korea to place children based on the first two priorities of Hague (first to place them into their biological families, and second to place them through domestic adoption), Korea may not follow through with the third option of placing the remaining children through ICA due to such a strong opposition to ICA by many.  It is much easier for them to put the helpless children in institutions and know it will be quite rather than choose to place the children overseas and hear complaints.

The Convention has been adopted by 79 countries including the US and China.  Korea has not adopted the Convention yet, but there is an ever increasing pressure in the international community for Korea to ratify the Convention.  By theory, if Korea adopts the Hague Convention, the ICA should go on indefinitely, though in much smaller scale. This aspect of Hague seems to bother all the anti-adoption organizations in Korea, but I have yet to hear any clear and sound objections coming from them. 

If by chance Korea does not adopt the Hague Convention, then the ICA will most certainly be closed in Korea.  This is evidenced by the general attitude of the Korean nationals, especially the politicians.  Over the years there have been several attempts by a few Korean politicians to propose the closure of ICA.   I can remember in 1999 when a politician in Korea proposed the closure of ICA by 2006, and in 2007 a government minister promised the closure of ICA by 2011, and recently another congressional representative tried to pass a mandate to close the ICA by 2016, but she was not successful even though she was able to bring about many revisions to the Korean adoption law that now heavily favors birthmother’s rights. (I will write later a separate blog on the adoption law changes).  So far, none of these politicians have succeeded, but this does not mean that it won’t happen.  It may just be a matter of time when the ICA will come to an end if Korea doesn’t adopt the Hague Convention. 

It is without question that this issue on ICA became much more noticeable and debated right after the 1988 Seoul Olympic.  The matter of ICA gained much attention during the Olympic as one of the major US networks featured a segment on the ICA that brought great humiliation to Korea as the country only wanted to project positive images to the world.  The Olympic had a slogan that said, “The World to Seoul, and Seoul to the World.”  So each day every effort was made by Korea to project beautiful sceneries, cultural images and the miracle of economic recovery in Korea.  It was during one of those stories that the network featured a story on how Korea continues to send children abroad to be adopted.

You can just imagine the uproar this has caused in Korea (and also in the Korean-American communities).  Immediately after the network story broke through, there were many Koreans that demanded to halt the ICA.  Their reasons were all the same.  That ICA was a national shame, that it is an embarrassment for Korea in light of such an important international event.  That Korea was no longer a poor country, and the fact that Korea was economically strong enough to host an Olympic meant that they should be able to take care of their own children.  The Korean media flamed these sentiment for many months after the Olympic. 

I remember watching that segment of the network story and as I recall, the story itself wasn’t positive or negative.  It was just stating a fact that due to Korean nationals not adopting the homeless children they had to be placed overseas. Regardless, Korea did not like it at all because it exposed the weakness in the Korean people.

It was in that moment I began to question, “Why don’t Koreans adopt?” “Why are they upset at foreigners wanting to adopt the children that they don’t want to adopt?”  “Is there something I can do about this?”   These were some of the questions that later helped me to form MPAK movement to promote domestic adoption in Korea, and to promote adoption by Korean-Americans.  Over the years, MPAK has brought tremendous changes in the hearts and minds of Koreans to be more positive towards the concept of adoption.

However, I am concerned for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games that will be held at Pyeonchang, Korea.  While I am very happy that Korea could host such a great event, it may not be so favorable for all the homeless children.  I am deeply concerned that Korea may choose to abandon or temporarily halt the ICA program by 2017 as the Winter Olympic Games will be held in February of 2018.  Of course, this will be done to avoid another embarrassing situation they faced during the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.

My philosophy in adoption has always been the same as the priorities outlined by Hague.  A priority should be given for the children to be placed domestically (either to birth families or adoption).  If not then the ICA program should be the next best solution.  But placing children into foster care should be exercised with caution, and placing them in institution should be the last option.  In my years of promoting adoption in Korea through MPAK, I have never spoken against ICA as there have been so many wonderful families that have done wonders to so many homeless Korean children.  Without those families the children would most likely grow up in institutions in Korea.  And I am certainly a living proof of that. 

I believe the most important thing for children is for them to grow up in loving homes, whether they be in Korea or in overseas.  Unfortunately, not too many Koreans seem to put the best interests of children first.  If they could only see from the hearts of homeless children…


  1. Thank you again for another great blog post. I would love more information on the portion of your post quoted below. My three children were adopted through KSS which has recently announced the closure of their ICA program. I am concerned about the safety of my children's records and was hopeful when I heard about a new database to store the information. However, the quote below brings that into question. Do you have any knowledge about whether KSS will transfer the children's files to the central agency?

    "In Korea, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) is the central authority, and they have established the Korean Central Adoption Resources (KCARE) to develop and implement the database system to track all the homeless children in Korea (whether they are in orphanages or in custody of adoption agencies) and if possible to have database on birth families. In most cases the adoption agencies will be the keepers of the information related to privacy matters on the children they serve, i.e. information regarding birthmothers, etc."

  2. My question is, what will happen to the children in process who are just waiting for EP but missed the yearly quota when/if the program ends? Would they be allowed to complete their process and leave Korea, or would they be forced to remain in the country as an orphan? If the Hague is ratified, would families in process have to redo paperwork to meet new requirements, thus further delaying their children's homecoming, or would those children be granfathered in so to speak?

  3. Dear HLLB - KSS will continue to be in business serving other needs in Korea, but only close the intercountry portion of their work. They will continue to provide post adoption related services. Other than the privacy related data, they would most likely transfer all the records.

    Dear Anonymous - Your child will be allowed to complete the adoption process and EP will be given. If the Hague is ratified, the ongoing process will continue on. However any new process that starts after the Hague will go through a different process.

  4. Steve, thank you again for a very clear presentation and explanation. I am saddened to hear that Korea is more concerned about public image than the best welfare of these children. There are so many, even now, who are just stuck in the process, waiting as their precious childhood is spent without their forever families. I know it's not all doom and gloom, but I just keep seeing more and more of these children and less and less families being able to adopt them. Nevertheless, I appreciate your insights on this issue.