Sunday, May 3, 2020

The COVID-19 and the Adoption Laws Impact on Korean Adoption

This article appeared on the May 1st issue of the Joong Ang Daily in Korea.  The article gives a detailed look at the recent COVID-19 pandemic impact on both the domestic and intercountry adoption in Korea.  The article also looks at the negative impacts of the Special Adoption Law of 2012 that have sent more children into institutions. Joon Ang Daily is one of the major newspapers in Korea and widely read.  
Original Article Source:

Children Continue to Grow While Adoption is Virtually at Standstill

The Reality of Adoption Shadowed by ‘COVID-19 Tragedy’

By Sang Un Lee, Editor in Chief, JoongAng Daily, Posted May 1, 2020

Minsoo, who is slated to be adopted abroad, is playing with his foster mother Lee Keum Sun.  At 18 months old, his adoption is delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that worries many who care for him. 

An 18 months old boy Minsoo (pseudo name) lives with his foster family in Suwon City.  If it were not for the COVID-19, he may already be in the US with his family.  But now it is uncertain when he will be allowed to leave on a plane.  Minsoo is growing leaps and bound each day.  He considers his foster parents to be his by calling them mommy and daddy and can speak a little.  He considers the foster parents’ children like his older brother and sister and is attached to them.  
The adoption agencies note that a typical 15~16 months old child will have a tough time adjusting to the new environment.  Their situation is a little different than the children adopted earlier.  For Minsoo, it will be a challenge to be able to attach to the new adoptive family, and may have to long endure the pain of separation from the foster parents.  
  •  Travel challenges on visiting parents limit their visits to court
  • Some parents give up the adoption process
  • More restrictions on top of already lower adoptions due to the adoption law
  •  Urgent solution and policy revision is needed
Minsoo was born in October 2018 and was relinquished by his birth mother at the Social Welfare Society (SWS).  SWS spent 5 months of efforts to find a family within Korea for domestic adoption, but without success (The 5 months wait period is in place by law).  He was then matched with a family overseas.  His adoption process was begun in July 2019.  According to the Special Adoption Law of 2012, the adoption must be approved by the adoption court.  It takes around 4~5 months for the court to finalize the adoption.  

SWS expected that the court would summon the couple to show up in March and that the adoption would be finalized in April.  However, the court date was set to April 10th due to the COVID-19 pandemic that slowed down the court process. Also, because of the COVID-19 travel restrictions (foreigners arriving in Korea must undergo 14 days of quarantine at the visitors' expense) imposed by Korea, the couple could not keep their appointed court date.  Now the court has reset the date to mid-June. If everything goes well, Minsoo will be able to leave by July. However, due to the uncertainty with COVID-19, additional delays may be possible.

Ms. Lee Keum Sun (50), the foster mother who cared for Minsoo stated, “I am concerned that he may turn two years old. He needs to quickly adjust to the new family and forget his situation here.  Typically, when a baby leaves at 15th month they cry a lot by clinging on to me.  If he goes after 20th month it would be a more painful experience for him.  The foster mother’s eyes teared up as she stated this. Ms. Lee has fostered eight such children during the last nine years.

Adoption Agencies Facing Hard Times

Ms. Kim Jin Sook, President of Eastern Social Welfare Society

Like Minsoo, SWS has around 30 cases of adoptions that have been delayed due to COVID-19.  And the situation was the same with the two other adoption agencies, Holt and Eastern.  The domestic adoption process was also halted briefly due to ‘social distancing’ exercised by the court.
 The adoption delays not only cause problems for children, but the agencies are struggling because of it.  The agencies are faced with extra costs of overheads and social service costs that eat into the adoption costs (domestic adoption fees are government provided; intercountry adoption fees are paid by the adopting parents). Ms. Kim Jin Sook, the president of the Eastern Social Welfare Society (ESWS) adoption agency stated, “Up to now, we were barely making ends meet. But now this has happened.  We are doing everything we can to survive, even considering unpaid furloughs for our staff. There seems to be no end in sight.” 
 The agencies reached out to the government for financial assistance, but it has fallen on deaf ears. The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) stated that “We are considering ways to loosen regulations so that the agencies can use their assets as business expenses.” MOHW also added, “Taking into account that it is a special situation, we would like the court to be flexible in the method and period of investigation and hearing, but the government administration cannot engage in the judicial affairs.”

“Given the Situation, the Adoption Law Must be Fixed”

Even before the COVID-19, the number of adoptions has already plummeted.  This impacted the agencies in unfavorable ways. In 2012 the number of adoptions was 1880 (Domestic 1125, Intercountry 755).  In 2018 it plummeted to 681 (Domestic 378, Intercountry 303), which is 1/3 of what it was.  The reduction was not due to the reduction in the number of unwed mothers giving up their children.  It was mainly due to the law and the polices.  The Special Adoption Law allowed adoptions only for the children that have been registered into the unwed mothers’ family registry. If a child is not registered, the agencies cannot intake the child for adoption. 

This has resulted in the sudden jump in the number of newborn babies being abandoned at the ‘Baby Box’.  The government set an upper limit on the number of overseas adoptions to the agencies with the intention of reducing intercountry adoption by promoting domestic adoption. But the domestic adoption did not increase. In fact, it decreased significantly. When the society at large is reluctant to have more children, thus resulting in the decreasing birth rate, it is difficult to expect that there will be more families that will adopt and raise the children. The process to adopt became much more difficult due to the court requirements and proceedings.

The newly elected representative Ms. Kim Mi Ae has adopted two children.  
She hopes to change the adoption law that will send children to families rather than institutions.
Mr. Oh Chang Hwa, the leader of the Korea Adoptive Families Alliance (KAFA) stated that “The law was responsible for putting so many children into institutions rather than giving them the opportunities to grow up in families. I cannot help but question whether this law and the policies are really in the best interest of children or not.”  
In response to this, Mr. Sung Chang Hyun of the Ministry stated, “We cannot turn back the policy of complex adoption process.  We must support the concept of single-parent family structure, support continued adoption educations to overcome the social stigma against adoption, and tackling other issues is the way to go.   
The newly elected representative Ms. Kim Mi Ae, an attorney who has dealt with the adoption law issues for many years stated, “It is because of the people that are so out of touch with the reality, and are skewed by the vague idealism, making the laws behind their desk have made the adoption so much more difficult.”  Attorney Kim has adopted two children.

The month of May is the Month of Family.  It celebrates the Children’s Day and the Parents’ Day, and the National Adoption Day on May 11th.   It is hoped that the citizens will become more aware of the tragedies brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impractical laws and policies that have so negatively impacted adoption.

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