Sunday, August 31, 2014

20 Children Each Month...Who is Responsible for their Abandonments?

This article on Rev. Lee Jong Nak of the Baby Box came out recently in a Korean news magazine called OhMyNews.  The original link to the article (in Korean) is at:
But I have translated the article below for my readers.

Among the heavily populated residential area in Seoul Kwanak-Gu Nangok-Dong, stands a church. On the outside of the church there is a sign over a box “Please pull the handle below and put your baby if there is no way for you to keep the baby.” This is the Baby Box. The Rev. Lee Jong Nak (60) of the Jusarang Community Church, made the box in 2009 to accommodate the children being abandoned.
“My youngest son is 28 this year, and he has been lying in bed for the past 14 years.  He is severely handicapped and is considered a vegetable person. He spent many years in hospitals and I have met many parents that leave their children in hospitals and disappear. They say they will go earn the surgery expenses but never return. I wonder how can they be at peace for leaving their sick children in hospital? But they hope that the hospital will take care of their children.

One day an elderly woman who has never met the Rev. Lee came to see him.  “I have a granddaughter and she is in a vegetated state like your son.” If you take care of this girl I would be able to close my eyes in peace.  This was how the Rev. Lee got started with the adoption of special needs children.

On one early spring morning in 2007, a phone call came to the Rev. Lee.  The caller said that there was a baby left in front of his church.  Rev. Lee went down to see the place and there was a newborn child in a blanket inside a box that reeked with fish smell.  He noticed that there was a large cat nearby that came at the smell of fish. This was when it hit him that for the safety of the babies, a Baby Box was needed.
“I shivered at the time.  If I had come out just a bit later, what might have happened to the baby?  I can still remember the look in the cat’s eyes. After that night I thought that there must be a safe way for the children to be abandoned.”

The baby brought in a fish box was born prematurely and had the Down syndrome. He could not eat well. The nearby hospital doctor said that the baby had a very little chance to survive and that the pastor should just give up.  But today, that child is healthy and attends a kindergarten.

“No matter what others say, I am a father to the children.”
Once the babies are abandoned in the Baby Box, they are sent to the Seoul Children’s Hospital for health checkups, then they are assigned to the baby institutions throughout the Seoul area.  The special needs babies are sent to the special needs center and the healthy ones are sent to various institutions. But many children find getting a good care at institutions difficult. Therefore the children that are cared by the Jusarang Church are severely needed children.

Then the Rev. Lee decided to adopt 15 of those children.  Nine of them were adopted by the Reverend, but the applications to adopt six others were rejected.  He took these cases up to the Supreme Court, but still lost.  The reason for the rejection was due to the question on how one can raise so many children with very limited income.
“But how can I turn those unhealthy children away?  I have kept them all.  Even though legally I am not their father, I wanted to be their father. Children needs parents. We are their father and mother. They are all our children.”

One by one the family grew to 21. As the number of children were added, the problem was with the limited space. One day when a child visited his friend’s house, he came back and asked, “Why don’t I have my own room?”  Hearing this made the pastor feel sorry for the child, and he recently was able to find a bigger place in Siheung-Dong with borrowed money.
“We are supported by the sponsors. The Government has never helped us. But if I as a parent can provide such a place for my children, I would not withhold anything back.

When the door of the Baby Box opens the bell rings.  The Rev. Lee immediately goes down to fetch the baby.  One time I went down and there was a soldier who was on leave and a teenage mother. They cried their hearts out, “I still remember that night vividly.”

“I tried to comfort them by saying don’t worry too much as there are ways to solve the problems. I suggested to the soldier to contact his parents, and he said that he was afraid that he would be beaten to death. But despite the fear he approached his parents and told them the truth.  But their reaction was completely unexpected.  The parents said, ‘Bring the baby home.’ But not too many unwed parents have this big of courage.  Because of the fear from unaccepting parents, I wound up meeting seven parents of unwed mothers on their behalf.”
When the Baby Box opens and the bell rings, the Rev. Lee drops everything he does and runs downstairs. He wants to meet the parents. He feels the importance of taking care of the children that have been abandoned, but also want to share the burden that the unwed parents must go through.

“Most of the unwed mothers that come are in their teens.  How painful it must be for them to come? What agony they must go through in their hearts? They also need to live. They need a place to let go of their pain and shame. If I only cared for the abandoned babies what good would it do? Both the children and the parents must live.”

“Is there something greater than life…”
The Baby Box has now been in existence for five years, and there are some that criticize what I do. They claim, “The Baby Box encourages the abandonments and takes away the responsibility of unwed mothers to their children.”

“These sorts of accusations are like playing with words. Who has the guts to say to the teen mothers that what they are doing is wrong and they are responsible for the mess they made.  This type of attitude is very irresponsible.  Is there something more important than life?”
The Rev. Lee recalls a phone call he received from a teen mom. The voice on the other end said “I was about to take a poison with my child.” The Rev. Lee talked with the woman for two hours to change her mind. He finally convinced the mother to take the taxi and brought the baby to the church. She had a bottle of poison in her hand.

“It was very hard to convince her. Is there a person of critic that truly understands their predicament or at the least be curious to know what they are going through?  They only condemn me.  If a person is sinking in water one must first save the person. Will they argue that I do not have a life guard license? If there is a fire one must report the fire and help to put the fire out.  Why question one’s qualification? Really.”
The Reverend appears on all the media coverages on the Baby Box without hesitation.  It is to save the lives of the children. But each time he is also met by criticisms.

“I challenged one critic. ‘What problem does the Baby Box bring?’ He said that it encourages additional abandonments of babies. So I asked him. ‘What evidence do you have to show there are more babies abandoned because of the Baby Box? He couldn’t show any evidence.  In actual, the Human Rights Association of Korea handed down a conclusion. The Baby Box does not violate the human rights.”
On May of last year, someone submitted to the Human Rights Association of Korea complaining that the ‘Baby Box violates the human rights of children and the welfare law and that the building itself is illegal’.  But on September 27th of the same year, the Human Rights Association of Korea handed down the conclusion that ‘The Baby Box is not in violation of the human rights nor is there a legal basis that the building is considered illegal’.”

‘The Law that does not protect both the children and the parents’
The Rev. Lee claims ‘Special Adoption Law’ is the cause of child abandonments.  When the law was enacted in August 2012, the adoption process changed from a reporting system to the approval system. On top of that the adoption requirements for the parents got tighter and required the unwed mothers to register their children, thus making it much more difficult to adopt.

“It is driving the unwed mothers to the edge as they cannot register. It is an abuse by the law. How can a teen mom register her baby? Even if she did, she cannot raise him so she must relinquish him for adoption. Both sides of the birth parents must get involved. Is this feasible? How many can be adopted through this means? And this is not all. The registration record gets erased when a child is adopted. But for those babies that don’t get adopted, or those that are disrupted, their registration doesn’t get erased.  What kind of law is it that it cannot protect both the mothers and the children?”
Before the Special Adoption Law people can simply report on their adoptions, but now the family court is involved to approve or disapprove the adoptions.  In the old days people were able to adopt as their children as if they were their own, but now secret adoption is no longer possible. It is because the family court is involved.

In the US, all 50 states have the law (Baby Safe Haven Law) that allows anonymous abandonments. It doesn’t involve complicated documents or providing detailed information. This was developed to save the lives of children that have nowhere to go.
“I am not complaining over nothing. The special adoption law may provide a better life for the children adopted. But we do know this. Before August 2012 when the special adoption law was enacted, the Baby Box used to average two children being abandoned per month.  And now? It has gone up 9 or 10 times to around 20 children per month.  Is it the Baby Box that is causing child abandonment or the special adoption law?”

Also, the Rev. Lee states that the law is weak.
“Call the Ministry of Health and Welfare and see.  Ask what benefits a teen mother can receive. For an unwed father the family registration is impossible by himself. Therefore the adoption is impossible. Who needs to speak for the rights of these people?  In Sweden the country itself takes the responsibilities and helps find the missing birth parents and encourages the parents to be responsible in taking care of their children.  This isn’t done in Korea as this nation essentially says to an unwed mother, ‘You find out the child’s birth father and take care of the situation’. Is this something right for a country that is experiencing a severe population decline?

“The Society Loses If I Do Too Much”
There is a critical needs to take care of the children that have been abandoned.  There is a limit on the number of children that the City of Seoul can take care of.  Regarding this, the Reverend suggests this.

“Is there no solution to the current system? If they can contact 119 (emergency calls), and let them accept the abandoned children, that would be the best solution. There will always be people in standby, they will have the emergency medical system, with good connections to the hospitals. If such systems can be set up at each prefecture in Korea, then this would be wonderful. Why can’t they be doing this?”

Though the Rev. Lee suffers from the arthritis on his left arm, he still takes care of the baby. There is something that he would really want to see happen.
“I think I will be happy when the evilness of the special adoption law is revised and there is no more children abandoned at the Baby Box.  If I work too much, the society suffers.  But these days I have lots of works. It is very frustrating. I am getting old.  Another wish is that for young people to have the right views on sex. Teenagers are taught or tempted to experiment with sex constantly. I think it would be wonderful if the teens are taught to have the right view of sex through a better education.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Age Waiver Relaxed for Previously Adopted Couples

Some of you have already heard this news.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea (MOHW) has relaxed the age requirement for couples to apply for adoption up to 49 for those that have previously adopted from Korea, effective August 1, 2014.

For those families that want to adopt another child from Korea, this is great news.

The new guideline also clarifies the age limits for the Korean-heritage families and adoptee couples, but this practice was already in place since 2007, though some agencies may not have followed closely on this.

For those that are adopting for the first time from Korea, the age requirement is 45 at the time of application (some agencies confuse this as the time when the MOHW approves the adoption).  But the agencies may have already put in place for people to allow enough time by applying at 42 or as late as 43.  But in my previous email inquiries to MOHW, they were very clear that the age is applicable at the time of application, not at the time of approval by the MOHW.

I will double check on this fact and get back to you.

A special permission will be given to prospective adoptive parents up to age 49 as long as they meet one of the below requirements:

1. Both prospective adoptive parents are Korean-heritage.
2. One prospective adoptive parent is a Korean adoptee.
3. The prospective adoptive parents already have a Korean adopted child.

I think I understand why this new guideline is being placed.  It is perhaps to shorten the adoption process, where the home study is already available, and also the psychological evaluation already being available as well.  Also, there is already an established trust where a family that has already adopted a child from Korea and does well, will most likely be trusted again with another child.

So for those who wanted to adopt again but couldn't because of the age limitation, this is your chance.

At any rate, this is a great news to many prospective parents and for children as well, only if more children are allowed to leave Korea to go to their homes.