Jane Jeong Trenka responds to Voice of Love

A couple of days ago I shared my reaction to the Voice of Love campaign that recently kicked off under the direction of Pastor Eddie Byun of the Onnuri English Ministry in Seoul. Several of you left comments on that post and yesterday's - thank you! I'd like to call two of them out here, and will be writing a little more on this subject over the weekend in response to the others.

The first I'd like to note from the Voice of Love post was from Sue G, who articulated something really important:
I hate liberalism that says do not judge culturally relative mores which cause human suffering. We have to draw the lines. We have to cry foul where we see it, in our own cultures and in others too. We just have to or there is no hope.
Adoption isn't the only place we see this, we see it all the time in our country's relationships with other nations that condone human rights.  I believe Korea has the right to determine her own policies, and have been willing to see where that effort goes.  But it has become clearer and clearer to me that Korea's adoption policies discriminate against unmarried mothers, the children of unmarried mothers, handicapped people and mixed race people. Additionally, by sending its children to my country, Korea makes these issues my business. It's time for adoptive parents to cry foul, and stop letting their gratitude for their children get in the way of right thinking.

The second is from Jane Jeong Trenka, one of the most dedicated adoption reformers on the planet. You will know her from her books The Language of Blood and Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee's Return to Korea, her contributions to Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption and other publications, and from her activism with TRACK. Janes's comment provides important feedback about some of the information delivered by the Voice of Love campaign, as well as some of the clearest direction to adoptive parents, especially prospective adoptive parents, on what we can to to change the status quo. I quote it as Jane delivered it, apart from formatting adjustments and the addition of the text of Article 21 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

* * * * * * *

Of those "20,000" "orphans" that that this initiative is talking about, most are older children who've been left in orphanages because of economic hardship or after the divorce of parents.

In late December, MPAK (an organization that promotes the adoption of Korean children to ethnic Koreans in the US and Korea) helped change a law that they have been working on for 15 years that automatically cuts the parental rights of parents who have not parented their children for three years.

The law will not go into effect until next year, so those "20,000" are not even "adoptable" yet.

Moreover, those "20,000" are mostly older children, and as we know, the children of unwed mothers are hot commodities because they are young. So I don't think that most foreign adopters want these orphanage kids anyway. They are school-age kids, up to 18 years old, who are walking around fully speaking Korean and who are culturally fully Korean every day of the week, not just on culture camp day!

These two populations of unwed mothers babies and unwed mothers' babies need to be considered separately. There are some unwed mothers' babies currently in orphanages, but their numbers are far fewer than 20,000.

Instead of working for 15 years to "free" "orphans" for adoption, people should have been working harder for 15 years to encourage FAMILY REUNIFICATION and support for people in economic difficulty, as well as public campaigns for the acceptance of divorced and unwed mothers and blended families (where divorced and remarried people raise their children together). That would be better than the situation where the woman has to get rid of her kids so she can remarry some pigheaded guy who doesn't accept her kids from her previous marriage. She has to marry him because she is economically dependent on men -- she has been dismissed from the workplace for childbearing and has been out of the workforce for years, and can no longer get a job with a living wage and therefore has to attach herself to a wage earner to ensure her own survival, and puts her kids in the orphanage to ensure theirs.

As you see here, orphanages get about $1,000 in govt support per month per child, whereas an unwed mother gets $50 in govt support. It is an upside-down and backwards prioritization. The child's human right is to be kept with his/her mother.

Orphanage directors are happy to get children because they get more money. They have an incentive to take children easily and keep them there in order to maintain a full orphanage and full funding.

In addition, the child support laws are not enforced by the state. Instead, the custodial parent is supposed to duke it out privately with the other parent and make them pay. Needless to say, that system does not work and subjects mothers to more trauma.

Instead of funding and condoning these practices, we need:

1. Better enforcement of deadbeat dad laws.
2. Gov't support for unwed moms/ single parents
3. Orphanages should actively pursue family reunification. Pick up the phone; use the same police family search that adoptees and every other Korean uses when they cannot trace a family member.

PAPs who have the money and therefore the power can be proactive and say:

  1. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you remove reservations to Article 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Korea willingly signed. Do they intend to come into full compliance or not? It has been over 20 years since they signed.

    Added by TM: Jane just alerted me that it's Article 21a, to be precise, that Korea has reservations about.  Text follows:

    States Parties that recognize and/or permit the system of adoption shall ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration and they shall:
    (a) Ensure that the adoption of a child is authorized only by competent authorities who determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures and on the basis of all pertinent and reliable information, that the adoption is permissible in view of the child's status concerning parents, relatives and legal guardians and that, if required, the persons concerned have given their informed consent to the adoption on the basis of such counselling as may be necessary;
  1. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you sign the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and the adoption meets the standards of international law. 

  2. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you improve women's rights.

    Sisters need their own money! Korea ranks consistently at the bottom of the barrel in labor force participation, wage equality, and earned income.

  3. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you show us that you are acting in the best rights of the child by following the internationally recognized principle of subsidiarity: family preservation first, domestic adoption second, int'l adoption third. Walk the talk and put the budget there.

  4. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you stop abusing the category of "handicapped" by including mixed-race and premature babies in that category.

  5. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you make a concerted effort to develop systems for handicapped children to be supported by their own families. 

  6. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you create transparent practices and enforce it on the Korean side.

    Don't be naive Westerners and think that what is on the paper is real! It is just what someone wrote down. There is a big difference.

    How many moms have I met who were counseled to give up their kids for intl adoption SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE they thought it would then be an open adoption? A LOT. How many cases have I heard where the father of the baby was not notified that his baby was going for adoption? A LOT. Doesn't the father have at least the right to know?

  7. We are not going to adopt from Korea until loopholes in the U.S. laws are closed that have left some adoptees without U.S. citizenship.

    That is real solidarity with the same demographic that your adopted kids will belong to.

  8. We are not going to adopt from Korea until we know for certain that birthfamily can be contacted in case our adopted child needs a bone marrow transplant or any information regarding medical problems now or in the future.

    That means you know for sure that both parents can be contacted and the child was not relinquished under a fake name. In order to find Koreans in Korea, you just need their name and citizen ID number. The first 6 digits are the digits of their birthdate. (for ex. mine is 720308, meaning March 8 1972).

    As a recent YouTube animation I saw said, "My mother has the same right to privacy as anyone else. Relinquishing a child did not enroll her in the witness protection program."

  9. We are not going to adopt from Korea until we can feel completely OK about it, instead of kind of troubled and a little robbed and manipulated.


Anonymous said…
I really agree with what Sue G has written; cultural relativism when the cultural practices in question violate human rights is just wrong. (Denying women their basic human rights is a cultural practice in many countries.
Are we going to support that?)

When we adopted our son from Korea, I really believed that Korean women gave up their babies for adoption for the same reason some American women do: they just didn't want to be single parents. I had no idea just how incredibly difficult it was to be a single parent in Korea. I didn't realize that the social stigma and discrimination against the mother and her child were so strong. I didn't realize that the financial support from the government was so meager. (The Korean welfare system for single parents makes the American system seem as generous as Sweden's!) And I didn't realize that Korea didn't enforce child support laws (shame!)

Jane Jeong Trenka of course has it exactly right: the adoption problems in Korea are a women's rights problem and won't really be solved until the government has laws banning all discrimination and commits itself to supporting dependent children living in their own families.

(My own family has some direct experience of past discrimination against women in the U.S. My maternal grandparents divorced when my mother (now 85) and her brother were children. My grandmother got court orders against her ex-husband for alimony and child support. Of course they were never enforced. My mother and her brother grew up just barely above poverty on her mother's kindergarden teacher's salary which was, legally at that time, less than the salary of the male teachers. My mother's father was a surgeon and lived quite well.)

So far, I've only donated to organizations to help single mothers in Korea. I'm wondering what else I can do...

Courtney (the one who occasionally pops up at KF events)
Margie said…
Courtney, hi! Hope to see you at the Feb 4th event, but if not then, soon.

You're doing the right thing by supporting the single mothers organizations. I also suggest supporting adoptee-led organizations - in DC, there is a group called Adoption-Links that is reforming, and I'm sure they would appreciate support. Also, groups like G.O.A'L., ASK and TRACK (all listed on the KF Resources page) are doing good work in Korea.

Speaking out is also important, so thank you again for adding your voice. I think a big piece of forcing change is getting the US Korean adoption agencies to start putting pressure on the agencies in Korea around these issues. That's a nut we haven't even begun to crack, in my opinion.

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