Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Irony of Adoption Law that Blocks Adoption

The Irony of Adoption Law that Blocks Adoption

Recently there have been many news articles in the Korean media such as TVs and the newspapers criticizing the Special Adoption Law that was passed in Korea last August 5, 2012.  In fact there have been many adoptive parents and professionals and news media that have called for the elimination of the new law or revise it to save the lives of children and to allow adoption of homeless children.  Our MPAK website in Korea ( in Korean Language), has been busy with the comments by many adoptive families that are calling for action to put a stop to this, and the nation is taking notice.

The irony is that the Special Adoption Law that was passed to serve the interest of adoptees and birthmothers has become a complete fiasco that has tremendously reduced the number of adoptions taking place - both domestic and intercountry.  It is the irony of the adoption law that blocks adoption.

See the figure to see the dramatic changes that this new law has brought.  This figure will show a dramatic rise in children being abandoned (abandoned not for adoption, but through Baby Box, police stations, door steps, alleys, orphanages, etc).

The new law, which requires all birthmothers to register their babies in their family registries, was designed to help grown adoptees to find their birth families later in life.  But there are so many children being abandoned in Baby Box, subways, door steps, trash bins, and in many cases these children are found dead. 

While the law was designed to help grown adoptees to locate their birth families by forcing unwed birthmothers to register their babies in their family registry so the record will be available for returning adoptees, the law was passed without due regard to the reality of the Korean adoption culture. 

Because the new law forces birthmothers to register their babies, the great majority of the unwed birthmothers are afraid that their past improprieties will go recorded and remain with their records for life.   A significant number of them are teenagers or even in their 20s.  These girls do not want their young lives to be tied down by the responsibilities and obligations they were not prepared to handle, and to face their parents or friends in such situation would bring them tremendous humiliation not only to themselves, but to their families as well. 

For these girls, the requirement to register their babies from unwanted pregnancies is like a death sentence as they will be tied down for the rest of their lives.  They may have to give up schools, their prospect of getting married is significantly reduced as most men do not want girls with babies…the pressure to adhere to the new law at such young age is tremendously stressful, thus causing many girls to opt for secret abandonment.  This is the reality of the current adoption environment in Korea.

Here is a heart wrenching note left by a birthmother when she left the baby in the Baby Box.

“I am sorry to do this upon my baby who hasn’t even seen the light of the world…Because I can’t raise this child nor have the ability, the adoption is a better alternative.  However, I have already looked into adoption, but due to the changes in the law I am required to register the baby, and I cannot get a hold of my boyfriend as I needed some documents…I have no one to discuss this with, so I searched for the Baby Box, and I know I will be punished for this by God, and I am so sorry to do this for my baby, but I had to give up the baby this way…Please raise my baby well as her only fault was to meet a wrong mother like me…I have no other places to go or hope..Please help. Please.”

Here is another note by a different birthmother giving up her baby.

“The baby was born August 22, 2012 at 12:25.  I have no choice but to give up this baby like this as I have left my husband due to the trouble with him and the in-laws.  But we are not divorced yet, and there is the first child, and I am afraid to register this baby under my name.  And I cannot even give this baby up for adoption due to the new adoption law.”

The new adoption law requires the birthmothers to register their babies.  Without registering their babies they cannot legally give up their babies for adoption.  They have been turned away from the adoption agencies and other facilities as these organizations have been instructed not to take any children that have not been registered.

This has driven many birthmothers to choose unsafe ways of abandoning their babies, and many babies have lost their lives.  Thankfully there have been many babies that have been saved, especially by the effort of the Pastor Lee and the Baby Box. 

Another aspect of the new law that goes against the adoption culture is that in the past most of the domestic adoptions in Korea were done in secret.  Adoptive parents adopted their children in secret and the children grew up not being aware of their adoptions.  Because the culture in Korea is heavily into face-saving, many parents who can’t have children adopt children secretly and pretend to others that the children were born from them.  But the new law comes around and removes this option of secrecy, and this has caused the significant reduction of domestic adoption in Korea as people can no longer adopt secretly.  As I have said before, the irony of the adoption law that blocks adoption.

After the passage of the law in August 5, 2012, the intake of children for adoption by the agencies in Korea has dropped to less than half.  The agencies are claiming that the other half is being made up of illegal black market type adoptions and abandoned children.

If a birthmother chooses to register her child, and if the child gets adopted soon, the baby’s name will be removed from the mother’s registry.  If this is the case the birthmother may avoid the record of the birth registry.  But the problem occurs if the child’s adoption is delayed or no adoption takes place.  The child’s name will stay on the birth registry.  The record will follow with her even when he is put into an orphanage.  This is the reason for the reluctance on the part of birthmothers not wanting to register their babies.

Adoption professionals in Korea emphasize that the Special Adoption Law needs to allow a way for adoptees to be able to trace their birth families and at the same time provide privacy rights for birthmothers.  Mrs. Han Youn Hee of MPAK-Korea president stated, “I question why there is a need to force birthmothers to register babies just to provide the rights to adoptees. The court can keep the adoption records secret, and only open for reviews when both the adoptees and birthmothers agree.” 

I was so happy to see the responses by so many people in Korea and especially by the media against the fallacies of the new law.  This new law, so flawed and so ill conceived, is being scrutinized and the pressure is mounting to relook at the law.  Having the media on our side is very important as this is such a powerful way to convince the mass of people and sway opinions. 

Unfortunately there was no criticism on all the heartaches associated with the intercountry adoption.  This is understandable as all the protests being made by the Koreans nationals are directed to domestic adoption issues. 

I am praying for God’s guidance on how I can impact to help with the intercountry adoption process as I feel so powerless.   Lastly, I want to share with you a powerful Bible verse that my nephew Matthew shared.  "Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." (Psalm 8:2 NIV). 

I am praying for a quick revision in the adoption law so that children’s lives will be saved, and that children will find homes through adoption. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is heart breaking - for the mothers and the children. I hope and pray they will make changes to the law that will be beneficial for both parties.

  3. After the news articles went out, apparently there were many voices about how wrong the new law is for children and their birth mothers, and the Ministry had to publish an article to defend their policy. Now they are saying the if the babies are not registered under their birth mothers, then, they are "recommended" to be safely guarded any possible ways they can, whether in an adoption agency's care, other institutions, foster homes or orphanages. It's a mass. Absolutely chaotic. One orphanage in Seould is caring for two new born infants who are abandoned since December, and they said they have not had new born babies in their facility since 1965. That's a tragedy.

  4. I am praying with you.

    I was wondering if you thought with the new President being female might have influence in changing the law?

  5. Are the abandoned babies being taken to orphanages? When abandoned are they not able to be placed for adoption?

    1. Like I mentioned in the blog, most Koreans prefer to adopt secretly and now the new law does not allow that. Yes, the babies are taken to city run orphanages, and once they turn 3 they are placed in orphanges for older kids.

    2. Steve,
      does the new prohibit these kids from ever being adopted now? Is there a way kids in orphanages can be adopted internationally?
      Thanks for being an advocate for these kids and families. I hope there will be more like you soon!

    3. No, they do not prohibit adoption. Adopting a child from an orphanage works the same way as infants. The child has to be legally relinquished by birth parent, then ransferred over to an adoption agency which will have custody of the child for adoption.

    4. so then if they are abandoned they are not relinquished so they are not available to be adopted? That would be so sad? Thank you for all you do.

  6. So the agencies are granted EP based on the number of domestic adoptions which are down because of the mothers having to register with the government. Where does this leave waiting families who have referrals?

    1. No worry as the quota number is fixed and won't change. It's just that the three agencies get rewarded for placing more children domestically, and the agency with the highest number of domestic placements gets the highest percentage of the quota compared to the other two agencies, but the number of the quota is set.

  7. This is all so very sad. No one seems to have an audible voice. Not the mothers, certainly not the babies, nor the adoptive parents. Thank you Steve for being a voice for all of us who would love to speak and cannot. Thank you for relaying to us information, even when it is not what we want to hear. And thank you for caring about the mothers, the babies and the adopting parents. You are making a difference. Oh, that we could, too!

  8. thank you for being a dedicated advocate for these children and keeping us all informed. This is such a tragedy for these little sweet innocent souls. This really seems to be a trend lately, with Russia cutting off adoptions for the U.S. Governments seem to be thinking about everything but the fact that what the children need most is a loving family. Growing up not being able to find out about your birth family is tough, but not as tough as growing up an orphan your whole life with no real family.

  9. Prospective adoptive parent (still learning and reflecting) here with two comments:

    First, I have a different understanding of Special Adoption Law (SAL). In this post, you write about baby boxes and also that the SAL is "designed to help grown adoptees to find their birth families later in life." However, this discourse about SAL, adult adoptees and the baby boxes overlooks laws on children's human rights... the Special Adoption Law is a bit closer to conformity to international human rights law. For starters, we can take a look at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Korea roughly 20 years ago, here are a couple of the articles from that convention that I think need review:

    Article 7
    1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name,
    the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or
    her parents.”

    Article 8
    1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including
    nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
    2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties
    shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her

    Second, I can’t tell if the part about the “past improprieties” of unwed mothers was sarcastic or not, but here are a few resources cited on unwed mothers in Korea wherein you can find out that 1) most unwed mothers are not teens or early 20s and 2) why a stigmatizing attitude fuels the family separation:

    1. Thank you for your comments. It is clear from your perspective that you support the current adoption law in Korea.

      In the same Convention you mentioned, it states,

      Article 6
      1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
      2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

      I agree with you (and the Convention) that child should be registered. But if the culture of the country does not make this a favorable environment for birthmothers, and in the process endangers the lives of many children, the law needs to change to preserve the lives of children.

      It is also written in the Convention,

      Article 3
      1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

      If the forceful registration of babies causes danger to the newborn babies, despite the fact that this was an action under the “courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies”, then this action by the authority needs to be questioned, as it is clearly evident that their law has resulted in the loss of many children, and significantly hindered many children from finding homes. This is clearly not a case of “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

      What good is the registration and what good is having a good record, or identifying a child if such law causes many birthmothers choose to abandon or kill their babies?

      Also, the very fact that both Article 3 & 6 preceded the Articles 7 & 8, it shows the greater importance placed on preserving the lives of children, and that registration and identification issues are important, it does not and must not supersede the right to life of the children.

      Also, I don’t know what background you are coming from, I consider having children outside of marriage is improper. That's the way I was taught and I was not being sarcastic. I am from an old school, and that’s what I believe.

      As for your refutation on the number of birthmothers in their teens or early 20’s (actually I said in their 20s), please look at The Korean Unwed Mother Support Network (KUMSN) website, and it shows a graph where even if you add up to their early 20s, they occupy 62.4% of all unwed mothers, and 82.7% if you include the remaining 20s.

    2. Thanks for your responses. I'm going to make a list to organize replies and counter-proposal for birth registration:

      #1. No, I don't support the current law, I think the system is inadequate. I just disagree with your analysis that this law is for the interests of a few adoptees, it seems weird to promote adoption but not promote the human rights of the adopted or institutionalized child - including right to their identity, nationality, etc.

      #2. Do you include the Baby Box in the "unsafe ways of abandoning their babies, and many babies have lost their lives"? The statistic you shared includes Baby Boxes in the abandonment statistics, and there is no data explaining unsafe abandonment and the loss of life. Could you provide the relevant data?

      #3. I absolutely agree that changing the legal and social culture that creates an unfavorable environment for birthmothers is a priority (to preserve the lives and the rights of children and mothers alike) - but then you conclude that single motherhood is wrong... so, aren't you contributing to that unfavorable environment?

      #4. Closer examination of KUMFA data will show that the trend is toward lower teen and early 20s births, and increasing rates of women in their late 20s and 30s choosing to keep their children. There is a shifting attitude among unwed mothers amidst adovacy efforts. ALSO, after the law required moms keep their children at least a week before relinquishing, the vast majority keep their children... huge contrast with situations in which aso-called adoption counsellor at an agency wouldn't even let a mother hold her child after birth before taking a child away. Or when children could be relinquished even before being born.

      #5: New argument:
      Under the current law/system birth registration doesn't happen at the hospital right after birth. If it happened at the hospital and a 3rd party that doesn't have a financial or other stake in relinquishment registers birth and the state (rather than private organizations) made the determinations about the "best interests of the child" as per the convention... wouldn't that critically address some of your reservations about the safety of infants?

      As a prospective adoptive parent, I think it would be unethical for me to adopt from Korea under these conditions, so I want to see changes in the law and enforcement of the rights of children and women in society that make a better system. The past and current systems are inadequate, but dismissing opportunities for progress and chalking this up to a dismissive complaint about adopted children's rights to family/community of origin, identity, nationality, etc. simply isn't a step in the right direction. It can be better than in the past, and it can be better than what you propose here.

  10. Looks like a scammer. above.. There are only 3 agencies in Korea for adoption.

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