Tuesday, August 14, 2012

EP Status in Light of the New Adoption Laws

Many of you have asked me for an update on the impact of the new adoption laws that took effect in Korea as of August 2012, and on the issue of  adoption and the Emmigration Permit (EP) the Korean government issues allowing children to go home abroad.  So here is what I got so far.

It is well into August 2012 (August 14th as I write this), and the the new adoption law is trying to find its way into the unfamiliar territory and establish itself as the new order.  In checking with Korea, I have been told that by August 5th, the 90% of the quotas for the year 2012 has been fulfilled and the EPs have already been issued under the old laws.  Despite the slow start at the beginning of the year 2012 with issuing the EPs, both the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) and the adoption agencies have been working very hard to place as many children as possible this year to fulfill the quota under the old laws, and the remaining 10% of the EPs will be issued under the new laws. 

This is to accommodate the learning curves that the Family Court will face as they try to implement the new laws in a practical way without delaying or holding up the children that need to go home.  The Korean government has wisely decided to place as many children as possible within the designated quota limit set this year under the old laws but set aside the remaining 10% cases as a way to learn the new ropes for the lawyers, judges, MOHW, and the adoption professionals under the new laws.

So it is hoped that this new experiment will go smoothly and by the end of this year the Family Court, MOHW, and the agencies would have learned enough from processing the remaining 10% cases, that by the time the year 2013 rolls around they will be ready to place the children under the new laws as the process will become more routine.  There is certainly going to be some adjustments along the way, but this expected.

The new laws have not impacted the intercountry adoption that much this year, it is affecting the domestic Korean adoption in a dramatic way.  For instance, it has been a common place for a Korean national couple to adopt a child and the couple would immediately register the child into the family registry as if the child was born to them.  In fact the majority of the domestic adoptive parents have used this approach in adopting their children. The motivation behind this approach was to keep their adoption secret.  As you know this is the main reason why the adoption culture in Korea did not improve for many years until MPAK started to advocate the concept of transparent adoption to bring about positive changes to the Korean adoption culture starting in 1999.  But this is a whole new topic and I won't go into the details.

The new law requires that a child born to an unwed mother now be registered into the mother's family registry first, before being relinquished.  The new law allows the birthmother seven days of consideration period before deciding whether to keep the child or not.  This has resulted in two outcomes in Korea. 

First, there has been a flurry of domestic adoption of babies just before the new laws came into effect.  This is to take advantage of being able to adopt them and register them under the new adoptive parents name as if the children were born to them, thus allowing them to keep their adoptions secret.  Under the new laws this is not possible as the children will be registered first under the birthmothers' family.

Second, there has been an increase in the abandonment by birthmothers as they do not want to register the babies under their names, and want to keep their identities secret, not wanting to be discovered by their parents or friends. So there has been an increase in children being abandoned or in many cases discarded.  So the stories of birthmothers abandoning their babies in a subway stations, or on the streets, or in some cases in trash bins, have surfaced on news media more often recently.  A birthmother committed suicide by jumping off a building with a note that it was too much of burden for her to raise a child.  Also there have been more illicit adoptions where birthmothers give up their babies in a clinic without due process as new adoptive parents whisk the babies away in the dark. 

On the other hand, there have been some good and courageous birthmothers that have decided to keep their babies, and I hope there will be more birthmothers that will choose life.

The intention of the new laws is to bring about greater opportunity for birthmothers to keep their children, and to provide greater chance to be adopted domestically, and to place the children abroad if they cannot find homes domestically within Korea.  This is in keeping with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.  The new adoption law is aimed in keeping with the Hague Convention as Korea readies to ratify the convention. 

However, the adoption culture in Korea is not ready to meet the new laws head on, and there will be some more pains and adjustments and lost lives before Korea gets into the rhythm intended by the Hague Convention.