Shifting the Korean adoption paradigm

Lately I’ve been growing tired of participating in debates around adoption issues. I want change, and I want it now! But what do I get? Veronica Brown and the total mess two states have made of this child’s rights and those of her father. A government shutdown that has taken intercountry adoptee citizenship with it. Sad, frustrating and wrong.

In Korean adoption we have debate around the Korean Special Adoption Law that went into effect in 2012, which in the law's own words was enacted for the following reasons:
Thus, it is necessary to make adoption policy for the utmost benefit of children. With this view, the government should strengthen the management and supervision for overall adoption procedures. The paradigm of the adoption policy should be as follows: the best protection of child is being raise in one’s original home and country. 
To this end adoptions both domestically and abroad should be possible only by the permission of the court. The biological parents should be given sufficient counseling and information about the rearing of children, by doing so, the government should support direct rearing by the biological parents. Also, the biological parents will be given the right to agree to the adoption of a newborn baby only after a week passed after birth, and not before then. Adoptees shall be given rights to access information regarding their adoption information. By regulating domestic adoption as prioritized obligation, the government shall promote the rights, benefits and well-being of the children.
Adoption advocates point to an increase in anonymous abandonment, some at “baby boxes” started by religious and charitable organizations, as proof that the law has failed, because it requires a Verified birth certificate of the child to be adopted for the adoption to proceed (again in the law's own words). What some don’t seem to understand is that registration of births has always been a requirement under Korean law, and protections of an unmarried mother’s privacy existed under it.

Although it's a little challenging to zero in on exactly what differentiates how adoption is practiced under the new law vs. how it was before, it appears to me that the main difference it that agencies are no longer able to produce orphan hojeoks, "head-of-household" registries created for children adopted internationally. Instead, a verified - in other words, a real - birth certificate must be produced, which is of course where things get tricky for mothers. Old attitudes die hard, so although there are legal protections for women who give birth outside of marriage, some women sadly choose the anonymous abandonment route to avoid the birth from ever surfacing again publicly in their lives.

Before condemning the Special Adoption Law for this reason, think about it in the context of U.S. adoptee efforts to gain equal access to their birth certificates. To advocate against the Special Adoption Law is to advocate for no birth certificate to exist at all. Would you want that for children in our country? Why then is it OK for Korean children?

When unmarried Korean mothers speak through the rising numbers of children surrendered at “baby boxes,” as someone recently suggested to me that they do, they aren’t speaking their opinions about the Special Adoption Law. The new law is only unmasking the real culprit: Korean societal attitudes. It will take time for them to change, but change they must - and shame on us if we promote a return to the secrecy of the past, which hurts women and children alike. Unmarried Korean mothers deserve thanks for bringing precious lives into the world, not the marginalization Korea gives them. Korean adoptees - my kids - deserve to know who they are.

Although I have little ability to influence change in Korea. I have a voice and an obligation to call out what I know is wrong. The former Korean adoption laws and practices were unjust, and in more cases than I'd like to admit, downright unethical and illegal. We cannot go back there. I encourage others to rethink your opposition to the new law, and to instead put your efforts into making it succeed.


Susan P. said…
Margie, I'm with you. I want change, and I want it now! I have become so impatient with adoption facilitators and attorneys who oppose equal civil rights for adopted adults. It shows such a disrespect for us as human beings, and there is so much data showing that adult adoptee access bills are successful. I can only hope that more and more people will speak out, and that we will soon reach a tipping point.

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