I was contacted by a news media (I won't reveal the name and the associated media agency) with some questions related to pros and cons of intercountry adoption. Below is the response I wrote to the editor who asked for my comments.
The intercountry adoption issue is all about where you want to stand on the issue rather than for what it really is.
So you have adoptees on both sides of the argument, both for and against it.
And many adoptees are divided with passion and emotion on both sides.
While I can't speak for all adoptees, I will let you know how I feel about it.
I am an Aerospace engineer developing and building the GPS III satellites that will serve the peoples' needs all over the world.
Because of my scientific nature and logic, let me start of with this equation:
ADOPTION = OPPORTUNITY
Adoption is an opportunity to have a family, an opportunity to get educated, and opportunity to become somebody.
Interestingly, adoption also provides opportunity to speak for or against adoption itself.
If adoption is not a choice available, then what is the alternative to adoption for a homeless child in Korea?
In Korea, children are usually separated by unwed mothers or birth parents that choose to abandon them, either due to them not able to take care of the babies, or due to cultural pressure where out-of-wedlock births are not accepted, or children that are caught between the divorce situation or economic hardship...all play into many adults giving up their children.
But the great majority of the children are given up by undwed mothers that do not wish to take care of the children due to unacceptance of their situation by their families and the society as a whole. It is really difficult for an unwed mother to try to raise her child in Korea. The greatest of the difficulties is the social stigma against them, unacceptance by their families and peers, and economic reasons and inability of the young mothers so burdened with such heavy responsibilities at such young age.
For these children, there are four options available:
1. To be placed back with their biological parents...this seldom happens
2. To be adopted domestically...this happens, but not enough
3. To be adopted internationally...this is being choked off each year with very few leaving Korea now
4. To be placed in institutions (orpahanges)....this happens to most of the homeless children in Korea
What happens to the significant majority of children that are placed into the institutions?
The children usually stay in institutions until age 18 and then forced out of orphanage system with very little education and preparation to face the world by themselves.
For these adult orphans, most of them are not well educated or even go to colleges. So they may find jobs that don't pay much and work long hours. Many turn to criminal activities, and many girls become victims of abusive men, and some turn to prostitution to survive. And many wind up giving out-of-wedlock births, repeating the cycles all over again, just like their parents did.
There are some exceptions to this. Some orphans are self-motivated and do well in school and able to go out into the society and make something of themselves. Some have become teachers, businessman, social workers, etc. but these are very rare as most of the children are not motivated or guided or taught to study, and the orphanage life does not promote proper learning environment for the orphans.
Believe me, I lived eight years in an orphanage and I know what I'm talking about.
Today you hear many adoptees who are well educated and some are endowed with PhDs and teach as professors in some universities, but have chosen to speak against intercountry adoption. I do not think their hearts are evil in any way, but simply naïve with the facts. The fact that had they stayed in Korea, they would not have had the opportunities they enjoy now. Some adoptee activists are living in Korea to campaign against adoption. Some are even against domestic Korean adoption stating that adoption separates children from birth parents when in fact the adoption is in response to already separated children, not the cause of it.
Some of them seem to have the illusion that they might have been better off staying in the country of their birth, culture language, and identity, the things that many adoptees lament as something lost in the process of adoption. But the hard truth is that to grow up in Korea as an orphan the loss is many times worse than the loss of a culture or language. They have lost the opportunity to be somebody in the society as the institutional living has robbed them of their rights.
Many think that they might have had the chances to be reunited with their birth parents had they not been uprooted out of a country without their consent and transplanted in the strange places. Again the hard fact is that children being reunited with their birth family is very remote and most of them would have grown up in various institutions with very little hope or opportunity to make something of themselves.
Many of the orphans are tied down because of the law that requires parental consent to be adopted. One orphanage director who I have known for many years has stated, "The fact that there are the parents of these children existing somewhere in Korea is ruining the lives of these children." She was lamenting the fact that some of her children were admitted to her orphanage as babies, and now they are about to be forced out of the system. These children have waited all their lives for their parents to show up, but the parents have never stayed in touch nor visited them. For these children their lives would have been better off had they been adopted early, even through intercountry adoption.
Sure there are risks with intercountry adoption. I remember the news of a child being killed by his adoptive parent in the US two years ago. Some are abused physically and sexually. Some are not loved and neglected by their adoptive parents. But these types of risks should not stop the needs of the children to have opportunities they deserve. While there are some unfortunate placements of the children with bad parents, significant majority of the parents are good parents.
The study has shown that the rate of children being killed by their biological parents is ten times higher than those killed by their adoptive parents. So should we pass a law that forbids parents from having their own children because of the risk? We need to be careful to have a proper and balanced view before we rush quickly into making a judgment against intercountry adoption. That's why a few isolated cases do not represent all the adoption cases.
Adoption process has some holes as it is not perfect, but we should continue to improve on it, but at the same time don't tie down the hands of so many children from being adopted or their placement period drawn out so long because of some procedural bureaucracy. The current special adoption law is supposed to work for the children, but in fact it is working against such children that need to be placed as young as possible. Due to the law, many are now being placed two or three years of age. The most important period of their development years has already been tarnished with trauma because of the law.
Life itself is a risk. People get killed, there are wars and terrorism, natural disasters and famine, and diseases with all kinds of sickness, and one could consider that life is not worth living with such risks abound. But does that mean that we stop giving births to our children and give up the hope in living because of the risks? Definitely not. Likewise, should a few bad cases of adoption stories kill the hope for thousands of many children that deserve families and opportunities to become who they can be? Having opportunity means having risk. But for a child in an institution, there is no opportunity for the child, but the presence of even a greater risks.
I know I have rambled on a lot.
But I hope you will understand what I am trying to say.
All I am saying is that ADOPTION = OPPORTUNITY.
Let this opportunity not be taken away from the children.
“Opportunity to succeed or fail through adoption is better than having none at all.”