Monday, October 31, 2011

The Korea Herald Debate: Should Overseas Adoptions Continue?

This debate was posted in The Korea Herald on October 31, 2001.  The link to the paper is at:
But I posted the same contents in this blog as the link seems to take real long time to bring up the article as there are many advertisements that seems to slow down the download.
Correction:  The number 220,000 kids sent overseas is not correct.  The actual number is 165,000 as of 2010 data by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
With Korea’s reputation as a ‘baby exporter’ ...
Should overseas adoptions continue?

Korea’s 220,000 kids overseas
South Korea has the world’s oldest overseas adoption program, having sent an estimated 220,000 children abroad. In the aftermath of the Korean War, overseas adoptions were largely a mechanism for children to escape poverty and destitution, but in the decades that followed, societal attitudes were the primary driver of the phenomenon. Up to 90 percent of children born to unwed women are placed for adoption, reflecting the stigma that still surrounds out-of-wedlock pregnancy and single motherhood. Last year, Korea accounted for 13 percent of all overseas adoptions worldwide.

But things are changing. For the first time ever, 2007 saw more children adopted in Korea than overseas, indicating the weakening of society’s emphasis on maintaining bloodlines. In July the law on overseas adoption was revised, making the process more difficult, and seeking in the process to end the image of Korea as a “child exporter.” The law gave adoptees greater access to their birth records, introduced a seven-day deliberation period for women to decide whether to keep the child or give it up for adoption and made birth registration mandatory, aiming to end secret adoptions.

YES:Homeless kids deserve a better chance

I strongly believe that inter-country adoption, or ICA, needs to continue indefinitely in Korea because the children have a fundamental right to grow up in loving families, whether they are adopted in Korea or overseas. Every effort should be made for birth families to raise their own children, and the next priority should be given to place them in homes domestically, and the remaining children should have the chance to have their own families overseas. I also believe that the ICA needs to come to an end someday, but now is not the time as there are so many children growing up in institutions who need homes. The ICA should only be discontinued when there are no more children to be sent abroad.

Unfortunately, the overall mood and climate on adoption in Korea over the past few years has been shifting drastically away from being viewed as positive. Some Korea-based adult adoptee organizations have joined forces to bring about the demise of both inter-country and domestic adoption by advocating the ending of adoptions in Korea as well. They have used the terms such as “Baby-Exporting Nation” to deliberately embarrass Korea into reacting against ICA, and as Korea wants to save face in the international community, they have adopted policies to gradually squeeze the life out of ICA by reducing the number of children leaving Korea by 10 percent each year. Essentially what Korea is doing is sweeping the issue of homeless children under a mat by putting them in institutions and hoping they will save face in the international community. This is very sad, and comes at the expense of voiceless children that are moved around like pawns in a chessboard.

According to the statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare of Korea, in 2010 there were 8,590 children that became homeless in Korea. About 67 percent of these children became homeless due to poverty, divorce, abuse and abandonment, and the other 33 percent of the children were births by unwed mothers. Of all the homeless children, 1,462 were placed domestically while 1,013 children were inter-country placements. The remaining 6,115 children were placed in 280 institutions throughout Korea. Birth mothers have all the time in the world to reclaim their children if they wanted to, but the fact is they rarely do, and the children grow into adulthood in the institutions. So the claim by the anti-adoption group that adoption is the cause of separation between children and their birth mothers is plainly wrong. No matter what the argument is, it is abuse on a massive scale when you block the opportunity for children to have their own families by forcing them to live in the institutions.

So what would have been the alternatives if children were not adopted through ICA? Orphans growing up in Korea have historically faced incredible challenges as they are subject to strong social stigma. Compared to ordinary children with families, orphans in Korea experience what I call “status discrimination.” By status discrimination, I am referring the denial of opportunities for good education and good jobs that orphans experience, not only because they lack the financial and social support of a family, but additionally because society discriminates against them simply because they are orphans.

In the old days, 3-5 percent of orphans were able to go to college. Although educational opportunities for orphans have increased in recent years, they still fall significantly below the 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.

Orphans in Korea must leave orphanages when they turn 18 years old. Often these orphans are emerging from the orphanage just out of high school, with very few marketable skills. These young adult orphans are usually given a onetime allowance of anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. This meager allowance runs out very quickly. With no financial or family support available, going to college is impossible. These young adults go through extreme hardship once they leave the orphanages. Most work long hours in low-paying and are vigilant to keep their backgrounds a secret, for fear of status discrimination.

This is the reason why inter-country adoption should continue. Sure, it is an embarrassment in the international community of wealthy countries to admit that Korea still needs to send children abroad. However, it is even a greater embarrassment for Korea to put these children into institutions just to save face. Korean nationals must stop criticizing inter-country adoption and look at themselves for the problem of not wanting to adopt their own children in the first place. 

By Stephen C. Morrison

Steve C. Morrison is an adoptee and the founder of the Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea, currently working as a senior project engineer at the Aerospace Corporation on GPS III satellite program. Morrison lived in an orphanage for eight years before being adopted to the U.S. at age 14. To contact MPAK, visit: (English) or (Korean) or ― Ed.

NO: Single moms need support

Korea, along with China, has sent the highest number of children overseas for adoption. The actual number is uncertain but it is reasonable to believe around 200,000 children have been adopted abroad. This means that many Koreans are affected by the adoption issue. Sweden is one of the countries that has the highest number of Korean adoptees.

When overseas adoptions started during the Korean War, the primary goal was to save orphans and offer us a new and better life in a Western country. Later on the main reason was poverty. Today, however, the main reasons are a lack of political will to support unwed mothers and discrimination against these mothers and their children.

As a Korean adoptee who has grown up in a Western country, I acknowledge that war and poverty are good reasons for international adoption. Based on my upbringing in Sweden, I find it hard to accept discrimination toward unwed mothers and the lack of a social welfare system as good reasons for why Korea still is one of the biggest providers of adoptees, especially since Korea today has one of the world’s strongest economies.

In Sweden, many unwed mothers receive financial support if needed and therefore have good opportunities to raise their children. The old-fashioned idea that unwed mothers are bad women does not exist in Sweden anymore. Also, I am convinced that as long as Korea continues to adopt children away, the development of support to unwed mothers will continue to change very slowly. This conclusion is supported by well-known adoption researchers such as Rosemary Sarri among others, who argue that the Korean government has chosen overseas adoption before domestic solutions.

Another pro-adoption argument often heard is that children to unwed moms as well as domestically adopted children meet discrimination by the wider society. Even though this might be a good argument, international adoption is no guarantee that the adoptee will do well and be well-treated in the new country. Instead, international adoptees also meet prejudice in their new home countries.

One example of common prejudice against Korean adoptees is that the birth mothers are prostitutes. This idea is, for example, still spread by the biggest adoption agency in Sweden.

The biggest adoption study, which includes more than 10,000 international adoptees, shows that adoptees are overrepresented in drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicides and criminality. Other studies show that international adoptees also are more likely to be single parents, have little education and meet discrimination on the labor market. These studies show that life as an international adoptee is not necessarily easy.

While Koreans are very proud over their country’s rapid economic growth, successful companies and a well-educated younger generation, this is not the picture of Korea among many Westerners. Instead, many of them believe that Korea, like all other countries that send children overseas for adoption, is poor and that Koreans lack basic education.

This condescending opinion will continue to exist as long as Korea continues to export their baby problem instead of finding a domestic solution like other developed countries.

As a Korean adoptee, I am ashamed of Korean society for continuing to discriminate against unwed women and the Korean government for betraying their children.

After being engaged in different associations for Korean adoptees for almost 10 years I dare say that inter-country adoption is not always a good solution. Instead it is time for the Korean government and Korean society to find domestic solutions for the mums and their children.

A bad economy and being undeveloped are no longer arguments for overseas adoption. Today, however, the only reasons are sexism and an obsession with bloodlines, views that modern societies abandoned a long time ago. As long as Korea continues to export the “child problem” instead of solving it, the country will continue to have bad reputation among Westerners while children and their mothers will continue to be treated badly by Korean society.

By Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson

Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson, an associated professor of sociology and researcher at the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, was found in Sungdong District in 1976 by the police. She was given the name Kim Jung-yul and was adopted to Sweden by the Social Welfare Society in August 1976. She holds a B.A. in political science and a Ph.D. in science and technology studies and has published several texts on adoption. ― Ed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In Defense of Adoption

I wrote this essay about this time last year.  I wrote it because adoption is under attack by several anti-adoption factions in Korea and a few in the US.  I wanted to provide a voice In Defense of Adoption.

In Defense of Adoption(Published in Korean Quarterly, Fall 2010, Vol 14, Num 01)
Stephen C. Morrison/MPAK
The overall mood and climate on adoption in Korea over the past few years has been shifting drastically away from being viewed as positive, to being viewed as negative. Of all the causes, the greatest impact in the Korean society has been from the work of a few adult adoptees groups that have spoken up strongly against the intercountry adoption (or ICA), and even against domestic adoption as well. Some Korea-based adult adoptee organizations have joined forces to bring about the demise of both intercountry and domestic adoption by advocating the closure of adoptions in Korea.
These organizations, in separate efforts, have accused the adoption agencies of profiting from child trafficking, adoption document forging, coercing birthmothers to give up their babies, and have blamed the Korean government for allowing this practice to go on for many years. They have also advocated that the Korean government should do more to create an environment for birthmothers to raise their own children and avoid the separation of children from their birth families. Further, they blame adoption for being the main cause of the separation of children from their birthmothers. Their position is that if adoption can be stopped or discouraged, then there will be more birthmothers that will be able to keep their own children.
Some of their demands are definitely valid and ideal. Creating an environment for birthmothers to be able to raise their own children is a good thing. Most of the groups have proposed particular steps the society could take to achieve this, such as providing single mothers with more substantial financial assistance. They have also helped single mothers’ groups and carried out programs designed to help change the negative social stigma against single mothers so that they won’t feel negative pressure from the society that often makes difficult for them to keep their children.
While I strongly support the notion that birthmothers should be able to raise their own children, I do not agree that the adoption agencies have provided adoption services over the years because of a profit motive, and I do not agree that adoption is the cause of separation between the children and their birthmothers. Indeed, I can show that the main cause of children becoming homeless in Korea is that the majority of birth families who abandon their children simply can’t or won’t raise their children. Therefore, adoption is simply a response to so many children that have already been separated, and not the initiator of the separation.
Allegations against ICA
Allegations abound against ICA, and somewhat less against domestic adoption.  Some groups allege that adoption agencies are engaging in child trafficking, which, if true, would be a criminal act. The idea of child trafficking suggests the adoption agencies have conducted fraudulent activities by forging documents to send children abroad solely for economic gain. While I do not deny that adoption agencies often had to make up adoption documents, I disagree that the intent of the agencies was done to increase profit. If any agency has sent children abroad for financial gain, then its activities are criminal and they deserve our contempt. However, I strongly believe that this was not the case; adoption services in Korea were developed for humanitarian purposes. In seeing the needs of so many homeless children, and knowing the obstacles that lie ahead for them as orphans growing up in a society with strong social stigma against them, adoption advocates have acted responsibly to find better opportunities for children to grow up in loving homes abroad.
So what about the agencies making up the adoption documents? In the old days, it was not unusual for the agencies to accept into their care many abandoned children who arrived with little or no information.  In the absence of any information, often children’s names were assigned by the agencies. In addition to names, their date of birth and the place of birth were made up as well. There were many children who had no records at all of their birth origins. Children were found on the doorsteps of orphanages, police stations, markets, clinics, and churches. Some of those children had scribbled notes attached to their clothes with only names and the date of birth, but no other information could be found.  It was very typical that children came into orphanage care with little or no information. I, for one, did not know the date of my birth when I was first admitted into an orphanage at age six; the orphanage director made up a date. He did what he had to do to establish a portion of my identity that was missing. The orphanages and the adoption agencies in care of these children assigned names, birth dates, and other information about the children because having this information was a critical step before they could be adopted, either domestically or overseas. Can this be labeled as document forging? Can this be alleged as child trafficking? Clearly this is not the case.
However, there have been some cases where orphanages or agencies did questionable things such as changing the records of children so that they could be placed for adoption. While the cases like these certainly do have the look of illegality, I strongly believe that in most situations these decisions were made for the best interest of children as the decision making authorities knew what the consequences of those children would be living in Korea as orphans. One could argue that profit may have been a motive behind in making such decisions by the agencies. Perhaps it was, or perhaps not; it really depends on what you choose to believe.
But having personally lived in an orphanage in Korea for eight long years, and being fully aware at a young age of the very limited opportunities for me in Korea as an orphan, I am fully convinced that the agencies made a humanitarian decision to give me a better opportunity.  I strongly believe that this is the driving motive of the agencies which continue to send children abroad.  People who work in these agencies are fully aware of the difficulties that orphans will endure if they grow up in the orphanages in Korea.
Allegations have also been made that the agencies have coerced unwed mothers to give up their children for adoption; this has been widely misunderstood as well. While it is true that there have been many cases where social workers in agencies have tried to talk the unwed mothers out of their desire to keep their children, there is also the other side of the coin that most people don’t think about. The social workers in the agencies are all too familiar with the difficulties facing unwed mothers to raise children in Korea. Often the social workers don’t see the determination and the desire by the unwed mothers to keep their children but only see the difficulties ahead of them for both. Most likely, the social workers are mothers themselves, and more experienced and mature than most unwed mothers. In their services to unwed mothers, they have seen many unwed mothers who decide to keep their children, only to return them later for adoptions when they realize how difficult it is for a single mom to raise a child and be accepted by the families, friends, and the community. Knowing the difficulty, social workers may feel that they are compelled to convince the unwed mothers to give up the children rather than be burdened by them at such a young age. Such motivation could easily be misunderstood.
I have also heard instances where some birthmothers relinquished their children, then later returned to reclaim their children, only to discover that those children have been assigned or sent abroad for adoption. In these instances, the agencies should have waited before assigning the children to be adopted. The revised adoption law now being considered by the legislature in South Korea includes a waiting period designed for birthmothers to reconsider their decision to place a child for adoption.  It is encouraging, however, that adoption social workers are now a lot more open to a birthmother’s desire to keep her baby.
In recent years, more and more unwed mothers are choosing to go public with their single parent status and take on the challenge of keeping their children. There is now a network of unwed mothers in South Korea called the Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network (KUMSN).
Although I am not affiliated with nor represent any adoption agency in any way, I speak as an adoptee who lived the orphanage experience. Had I not lived in the streets of Korea at age five, and then in an orphanage for eight years, I am quite sure that I would not be able to defend adoption with such conviction. Without having experienced the pain of being homeless and living in an orphanage, I could easily be persuaded to be suspicious of the agencies, as many are.
For without suffering and without having gone through the orphan life, and without understanding what happens to orphans living in Korea, it is quite understandable for adoptees to view the adoption process as a business of adoption agencies which are selling off children for profit. This misunderstanding alone would make any adoptee angry or bitter.
Alternatives to Adoption
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. 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 the denial of opportunities for good education and good jobs that orphans experience, not only because they lack the financial and social support of a family, but additionally because the society discriminates against them simply because they are orphans.
In the old days, 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.
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 greatly over the years, it still presents a big challenge for children growing up in orphanages. Not many orphans are adopted domestically in Korea, as they are mostly older, and Korean nationals tend to prefer adopting infants, in order to keep the adoptions secret. (By “secret,” I am referring to the practice of a prospective adoptive mother going through an elaborate deception to pretend to be pregnant and/or to plan a well-timed move to another part of the country, then presenting the adopted baby as a birth child at the appropriate moment)
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 few 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. 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. 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.
Birthmothers’ Rights vs. Children’s Rights
Adoptees are not the only ones voicing opposition to adoption. Korean nationals have also voiced opposition to ICA. One in particular who is heavily involved in the anti-adoption campaign publicly remarked that adoption is a form of child abuse. They do not understand why ICA continues to this day, now that Korea is experiencing the 13th largest economy in the world, and is about to host the G20 Summit in November 2010. What they fail to realize is that the size of the economy has very little to do with people’s attitudes and hearts towards homeless children.  Koreans can be proud of their riches and economic progress, but that doesn’t mean their hearts are more open to orphans.  So it is a baseless argument to advocate for the closure of ICA simply because the country is better off economically.
A review of anti-adoption blogs or writings in the media reveals that these writers strongly suspect that adoption agencies are in it for the business or that adoption is promoted by the agencies just to stay in business. The claims are that, to maintain their businesses, the agencies all use the phrases such as “It is better for children to be in homes abroad than to live in the institutions in Korea” to solicit sympathy and support from the Korean public. They claim that this is in opposition to the agencies’ true motive to stay in the business and that if the agencies are truly interested in the children’s welfare, they should make every effort to find ways for birth families to keep their children, and pressure the Korean government to expand the foster care services and group homes using adoption as a last resort.
Some of what they claim is true; I disagree on a couple of key points. While it is true that the agencies and the government should try their best to enable birth families to stay together and look for solutions to enable birthmothers to raise their own children, I disagree that adoption should be a last resort, as they recommend. Adoption should be the second alternative to birth family preservation. Foster care, group homes and institutionalization should be used as a last resort.
I also strongly disagree with the contention that adoption agencies are all in adoption work for business purposes only. After having worked very closely with many adoption agencies in Korea as well as in the U.S. for many years, the agencies I know of are in adoption services for humanitarian purposes. They are sincerely interested in the well being of children. They also know that of all types of social programs available for children; nothing except for adoption can enable children to have families of their own, even if that means a family in another country.
The foster care system in the U.S. has been a failure, with children moving from one home to another on an average of eight moves per child before age 18. Korea is not spared from this. However, foster care can sometimes lead to adoption, and this should be encouraged. Group homes are even worse, because there is no commitment of a parent-child relationship in temporary care. Group homes are essentially miniorphanages with five or six children being cared for by adults who receive funding from the government.
No one would argue that it is better for children to grow up in institutions than to be adopted.  Further, in all of these childcare methods only one, adoption, can supply the child with a child’s most basic right ---- their right to their own family. When a homeless child is barred from an opportunity to have his own home, this is a greater child abuse than any alleged “abuse” that may occur because the child is adopted.
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.
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.
Let the Data Speak for Itself
Since 2001, approximately 10,000 children have been abandoned in Korea each year, and 2009 was no exception, with 10,153 children left homeless for various reasons. According to statistics from the Ministry for Health and Welfare and Family Affairs, in 2009, there were 1,314 children (13 percent) domestically adopted within Korea, 1,125 (11 percent) adopted through ICA, 2,947 children (29 percent) were admitted to foster care programs, and 4,767 (47 percent) were admitted to institutionalized care. (see the attached figure).
The figure clearly shows that there are significantly more children that are abandoned by birth families by choice, and that those families will not reclaim their children, except for in a handful of cases. They were not coerced away from the birth families. These children number over 7,600 (76 percent) not counting the children in adoptions. Birth parents have all the time in the world to go back and reclaim this 76 percent of children who are abandoned, but they don’t. If these children don’t get adopted eventually, then most of the 7,600 children will grow up in institutions. So the argument that adoption is the cause of separation between the birthmothers and children just doesn’t hold up when the facts show that so many birth parents have voluntarily abandoned these children.
As for the remaining 2,400 children that are processed through adoption, there is no reliable data to show how many unwed mothers actually wanted to keep their children. A recent survey from an unknown source in Korea found that, if socio-economic conditions were favorable, the percentage of single birthmothers wanting to keep their children in Korea was projected at 38 percent. If this percentage is accurate, then in the current situation, in which single mothers receive little or no socio/economic assistance, the percentage of unwed mothers wanting to keep their children would be far lower.
In 2009 there were 4,075 children born to unwed mothers. Thirty eight percent of this number is 1,549 children. Even very conservatively-speaking, let us assume that all 1,549 children that were adopted (both domestic and ICA) in 2009 were wanted by unwed mothers. That still leaves 8,604 children that were unwanted by their birth families due to all kinds of reasons. So to advocate for birthmothers’ rights by proposing to eliminate adoption really do a disservice to significantly greater number of children who would need homes. Adoption is not the cause of separation of birth families. Adoption is in response to already-separated children that need homes.
Not One Over the Other, but Both
There is an essential question regarding the rights of birthmothers and the rights of children. Why can’t they coexist? Why must one right be sublimated in order to make the other survive? Why does it have to be one or the other and not both? This is the struggle I have with anti-adoption groups or anti-adoption individuals.  The promotion of birthmothers’ rights and the promotion of adoption rights must go hand-in-hand and work together for the common good.
Would it not be more effective if these groups focused just on advocating birthmothers’ rights by insisting on the changes needed in society in order to allow single mothers to raise their children? Could they not focus more of their energies in speaking out against unfavorable socio/economic conditions that unwed mothers must endure in Korea? If they did, it would be a matter of time before more unwed mothers are able to keep their children and the need for adoption would be significantly reduced. Blaming adoption for the cause of unwed mothers’ woes, and insisting on the closure of adoption, can only create more suffering for children. For without adoption, the children will face institutionalized living.
Advocating for birthmothers’ rights is definitely needed. Better financial assistance for single mothers and a more favorable social environment in which single mothers may raise their children are both badly needed in Korea. Single mothers must also take on certain responsibilities in order to successfully negotiate single parenthood in Korean society. Demanding rights on the one hand but neglecting duties to raise their children on the other is an issue.
Further, it is a known fact that some birthmothers simply don’t want their children. They are either mentally or emotionally incapable of dealing with the responsibility.  Even if appropriate financial and other assistance were available to them, they still could not or would not raise their children. There have been numerous cases where birthmothers chose early on to raise their children but later decided to place them for adoption. At that point, the children would have already been registered into a birth family registry, which makes them harder to place for adoption, unless mothers willingly sign off their parental rights. This is provided that the mothers can be found and are willing to sign the relinquishment papers.
Closing Thoughts
I do believe there have been some mistakes in the ICA adoption process, through which children were sent to parents who were abusive or not capable of loving children that didn’t meet their expectations. This is a tragedy that should have been avoided, and for them, their adoption perhaps was a mistake. However, for the great majority of children adopted through ICA, their adoptions were not mistakes, and have resulted in blessings beyond measure. I am one of those who have benefited tremendously from adoption.
However, to advocate the closure of adoption (ICA or domestic) based on one’s negative experience is not the right thing to do. Just because it hasn’t worked for one does not mean that other homeless children should not have the same chance. While I share and sympathize with painful adoptive experiences some have had, I know that it is the right thing to continue with adoption, because without it there can be very little hope for children who remain in Korea as orphans.
To advocate the elimination of adoption due to some unfavorable risks that one has experienced in life is like advocating for the passage of a law that forbids children from being born because of the many risks of tragedies and pain the children may suffer in their lives. How tragic it would be if such law was enforced. Conflict and pain is not unique to adoptive families. It is quite normal in any ordinary family. We need to look at the whole adoption issue with a bigger mind and heart, and have a bigger perspective than merely focusing our attention on what has not worked. Life is full of risks, and yet we choose to bring forth lives into this world because we want to have hope and we want to love and to be loved. Adoption is much like this. Despite the risks that it brings, it is still a right thing to do for children to give them an opportunity to grow up as part of a family. This is certainly a much preferred option over institutionalized or foster care.
The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption was drafted with a belief that “what is in the best interest of children” should be the primary principle. The Hague Convention priorities state that efforts should be made for children to stay with their birth families first, and if that option is not available, then domestic adoption is the next best choice. If neither option is available, then ICA is the next best option for the children.
If South Korea signs up to join the Hague Convention, then they are signing up to continue to serve children through ICA, perhaps on a smaller scale. The foster care, group homes, institutionalization of children, in this order, should be the last resort for children.
Advocating for the rights of birthmothers is a noble thing to do, and it is really needed in Korea. I hope more birthmothers will make the courageous decision to raise their own children, but this choice comes with responsibility to stick with their decision and not give up their children later due to hardship. Also, if the anti-adoption groups or individuals focus more of their energies on changing the social ills in society that makes it difficult for birthmothers to raise their children, they will see favorable changes much sooner than they would if by concentrating on speaking against adoption.  Birthmothers’ rights and the adoption promotion must go hand-in-hand, not be opposing forces.
Adoption does not guarantee happiness or success. The very best environment does not guarantee success nor does the most unfavorable environment result in failure. But I can say with confidence that adoption provides an opportunity for children to realize their full potential in life that would otherwise be very limited if they remain in the institutionalized care in Korea.
At least for this adoptee, adoption has brought me tremendous opportunities. The best of which is my parents that loved me deeply. They had three children by birth, adopted an Amerasian from Korea, and two years later I was adopted as their fifth child. I was 14 years old when adopted. On Mother’s Day of 2009, I sent a little love letter to my mother, who is now 87. In it I wrote, “…Lastly Mom, your son Steve would like to express one more thought of love for you. If God gave me another chance to start my life all over again, I would choose the same path. I would choose the life of being homeless, go hungry, be cold, and become an orphan all over again and live in an orphanage. Yes, I would endure all those hardships again. Why? The answer is simple. It is so that I could meet you and Dad again…”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

MPAK Gatherings in LA and OC Areas

There were MPAK gathering at the Orange County (OC) Area on October 9, 2011, and another one for the families in the Los Angeles (LA) area on October 16, 2011.  MPAK-OC group met at Junhyung and Denise's place at Lake Forest, CA, and the LA group met at Emile and Jenny's place in Torrance, CA.  Both gatherings were well attended, with great food and BBQs. Jenny remarked that she has never had so many kids in her place running wild before and beamed with smile.  Some of us were addicted to such gatherings and decided to be in both places as the gatherings were back-to-back weekends.

A special thanks goes out to Denise and Juhyung for hosting the OC group, and to Emile and Jenny for hosting the LA group.  Thanks to all those that helped and to those that came to make the gatherings real success and fun.

Our next gathering will be a big one.  It will be on Saturday, December 3, 2011 at the Cerritos Presbyterian Church (CPC).  This gathering will be our annual Christmas gathering that will combine all three Southern California regions.  So mark your calendar and stay tuned.

MPAK-OC Group met at Junhyung and Denise's Place, Oct 9, 2011

MPAK-LA Group met at Emile and Jenny's Place, Oct 16, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

News Flash! "It's Finally Here - Adoption Opportunities for Expatriates Living in Korea."

It is official. The expatriates (those living out of the country for a prolonged period) can now adopt in Korea.  But there is a condition.  The primary being that one of the expatriate couple has to be of Korean heritage and able to receive a dual citizenship status, thus qualifying as a Korean citizen living in Korea.

Under this new regulation, the expat couples adopting in Korea would be considered a part of the domestic adoption process since a Korean-heritage expat with a dual citizenship is considered a Korean national living in Korea.  However, this is not easy, as other conditions state that the expats must have lived in Korea for two or more years before attempting to adopt, and they need to stay a year to finish up the post-adoption process and also to go through a process of obtaining the immigration approval from their home country.

Perhaps the best news of all in the expat adoption is that since an expat with a dual citizenship would be considered a Korean national, the adoption fee is completely free as it is paid by the Korean government. The expats are not limited to those that have the US citizenship, but also applies to the Korean-heritage immigrants living in other countries such as Europe.

This notice has already gone out to all the adoption agencies in Korea (Holt, Eastern, and SWS), and there will be no US adoption agency involvement whatsoever since the expat adoption will be handled as domestic adoptions.  Also the expat adoption will have no bearing on the quota limitation as they don't factor into it.  In other words, the expat adoption will not be a part of the quota system.

Details of this new regulation is still being worked out between the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) and the adoption agencies.  This new law is a very welcome thing as I had to turn away many expats in the past as they could not adopt while living in Korea. So this is a real welcome news.

This effort would not have been possible without the hard efforts by the Rev. Eddie Byun of the Onnuri Church in Seoul, who ministers a large English speaking congregation with many expats attending his church.  Many expats were wanting to adopt children while living in Korea.  The credit also goes to Mrs. Hannah Kook of the Hope for Orphans minstry.  I introduced to both an appropriate person to meet at the MOHW, and they started to meet together and got the ball rolling, with a big orientation meeting held at the Onnuri Church.  Congratulations to all for making this possible!