An interpretation of the Hankyoreh21 article (I’m really distraught because I purchased a digital voice recorder but didn’t hit save prior to turning off the recorder so it all got lost – the instructions were all in Korean, so I didn’t know – and she read 90% of the article translating every line – argh!) as relayed to me roughly by my translator. (I will add links with references and supporting data this week after I write my lesson plan)
They begin the article with my sad story and briefly touch on some of the difficulties encountered in my search for the truth. Basically, they use me as an example of what could go wrong yet also use my struggles for identity as a mirror into the future of all the babies currently being sent abroad for adoption. They say the mess is left up to the children to deal with, but it’s the country’s fault from beginning to end.
They go over the history of adoption in Korea and compare figures that tell a tale of adoption rates increasing after war reconstruction, when the opposite should be the expected result. They break down the number of Korean children going to each country, from each of the four main international adoption agencies. (Holt, Social Welfare Services, Eastern, and Korea Social Services) From Holt’s website, they list the adoption fees for available children from different countries and note some of the language Holt uses now and in the past regarding Korean children and the fees they command. It looks like pricetags. It looks like shopping. And Korean children are valued more. Because they are smart, taken as infants, and well cared for in foster homes. There is also less paperwork and it is easier to get a Korean child than a child from some other countries. They break down how much money international adoption generates for Holt International and how much Holt Korea gets of that. Holt Korea will not disclose how they spend their percentage of these adoption fees, though they give a statement as to the nature of the work they do and their relative costs. They also illustrate (the translation was fuzzy on this) how the distribution is supposed to be spread evenly amongst the purchasing countries, but somehow the United States has always taken the lions share of children. The higher fees might have something to do with this imbalance. It is pointed out that adoption here is a small industry and how many people Holt employs. (something around 270 if my memory serves me correctly)
Korea did not sign the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption. Neither did they sign the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. Korea has responded in the past to criticism about exporting children by either making meaningless gestures or by reducing transparency. After public attack by North Korea about their adoption policy, Korea privatized what little governmental oversight was left of their ministry of health and welfare adoption section (not the exact name) so as to diffuse the criticism. Also as a result of this privatization, adoption agencies were free to demand non-disclosure agreements from all of its employees, further exacerbating the dissemination of information to adoptees in search. After renewed global criticism of Korea’s continued international adoption in the wake of its show-case development during the 1988 Olympic Games held in Seoul, Korea unveiled a quota system to gradually reduce adoptions and ultimately eliminate them by 2015. (The late-breaking news from TRACK is that the end date of international adoption has been struck from the draft revisions to Korea’s Special Adoption Law going to vote by the National Assembly this year – this is an incredible setback – the opposite of progress – no exit strategy in sight) And in 1998, the late president Kim Dae Jung issued an apology to those adopted Koreans living in Korea. YET, despite the apology, no change in policy materialized. (Currently, they are attempting to create an independent body overseeing adoption matters as required by the Hague Convention, yet the body they have created is not a governmental body so not in keeping with the intent of the convention. Korea’s dancing around the Hague Convention is much like the United States’ record with the Kyoto Protocol)
There are something like 72 (I’m doing this by memory and need to double-check this somehow) homes for unwed mothers RUN BY or affiliated with ADOPTION AGENCIES in Korea. (no conflict of interest there) The largest share being run by or affiliated with Holt. In Korea, there is no waiting period required before a mother can relinquish her child, and this can be done while the child is in utero. (This practice is illegal in the United States because it was an opportunity for coercion on a mass scale up until the 60’s and these unwed mother’s homes were referred to as “baby farms.”) Unwed mothers (up until the end of this month, where it will be doubled) who keep their babies can receive only 50,000 won per month in assistance. (That’s equivalent to $40.00 U.S. at today’s rates – foster families receive double that – and this is in an economy where incomes and the cost of living is on par with the U.S.) The article goes on to describe how adoption is offered as the FIRST option to unwed mothers upon giving birth, and keeping the baby as the SECOND option.
Another individual story followed in the article is of a young woman who relinquished her baby because she was an unwed mother. She was visited repeatedly during her stay at one of these homes for unwed mothers and pressured into signing her baby over for international adoption to America. She then illustrated some of the arguments they told her. Finally she relented and signed. Later, she came to know of a Korean couple that would adopt her baby and when she tried to change to a domestic adoption, she was told it was impossible because she had already signed her baby away. All this transpired PRIOR TO THE BABY BEING BORN. When her baby was born, it was immediately taken away from her and taken to foster care, where most relinquished newborns go waiting out the Korean statute and prior to being flown to whatever country the adoption has been arranged to. The story was quite sad. She relayed how she didn’t know anything: the age of the parents, what their income was, how their health was, what their religion was, what kind of people they were. Nothing. She knows absolutely nothing but yearns to. She didn’t even want the baby to go to America. She is now married to her boyfriend and they have a daughter, but she regrets that she signed every day.
The article then goes on to revisit me briefly as a returning adoptee and then goes on to talk to some of the returning adoptees, intellectuals, artists and other activists, like Rev. Kim of Koroot and Jane Jeong Trenka. Unfortunately, my tutor was late for another appointment and we couldn’t finish the article.
My tutor shakes her head. Most of her friends are adoptees: she tutors them, translates for them, works with them, and loves them. She says every year there are a couple of documentaries and articles like this one and nothing ever changes. The Korean people feel pity for the adoptees, but also feel helpless to do anything about it. I tell her some of the inside information I’m probably not free to publish here, and she shakes her head further, telling me she’s seen so many discrepancies in what is in the paperwork from the adoption agencies vs. what the families say. We talk about the inequality of even searching – the 70,000 who visit, the 7,000 who search. (I have to check those numbers somehow) Everyone trying to get a scrap of information. Few as “lucky” as I am to be able to have an exceptional story to tell, and to be so old as to be able to press for quicker assistance, because my real family could pass away at any time. How little attention any of our cases actually receive, because there are so many of us – hoping, waiting. How many other countries have this phenomenon?
I think it’s clear what we have to do. We have to be an international embarassment. We have to expose Holt and those that modeled themselves after Holt as the baby selling industry that they are. I have no problem with Molly Holt running homes for the disabled. I have no problem if she provides homes for true orphans. But stay out of Korea’s wombs. And Korea – international adoption is no substitute for social programs. Have a little pride. You’re not a charity case anymore.
ADDED: Don’t miss the comments by Molly Holt and some fellow Korean adoptees (whom I’ve never met but would like to)