Girl #4708; The truth of the adoption industry that no one is responsible for

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)

5 thoughts on “Girl #4708; The truth of the adoption industry that no one is responsible for

  1. Dear Ms. Suh,Young Sook
    After reading your article I am shocked by your “disclosure” of the adoption industry, especially Holt, as a “baby selling industry”.
    Granted you were only listening to a translation, and admit you haven’t verified your facts.
    But I would like to make a few observations of some facts you have wrong. Since you mentioned my name, I feel quite qualified to comment.

    You say there are about 72 homes for unwed mothers in this country, and “most of them are being run by or affiliated with Holt” I don’t know how many homes there are here for unwed mothers, but as chairperson of Holt, I can assure you, WE HAVE ONLY 5 HOMES, and some are quite small. Most have some government support. We also have 2 small homes to help single mothers care for their babies and raise them. Korea is very regional, and mothers prefer to live in their own provinces.

    According to our president, Min, Kyung-tae, babies cannot be relenquished before they are born, the birth date of the child must be noted, the mother must see the baby and decide what she wants for him/her before she can sign any relenquishment.
    Mothers who adopt internationally have the choice of “open” adoptions in which they can keep in contact with the babies adoptive parents. Now all babies must be available to domestic parents first, but they are very choosy.
    I see that you were born January 1, 1964. Your picture shows you as a beautiful baby. Your article doesn’t make it plain if your have found your birth family or not.

    Korea has had a quota system since the 70s, and I heard North Korea critize our adoptions since I first arrived here in 1956. Why should we be concerned with their ranting? What is still happening to their orphaned babies? (many die for lack of milk).

    According to the lady in charge of our Seoul CLOVER Home (for unwed mothers raising their babies), mothers recieve support direct to their accounts in various amounts, from 360,000 Won to 560,000 per month according to their situations.
    (about $290.00 to $451.60)
    While in these homes, the mothers are encouraged to save these funds as most of their living expences are provided. Then use them when they leave and enter society.(Holt recieves donations to fund these home, no government substities are yet provided.)

    If you give me the date of that article in the Hankyoreh paper, I will try to find it and read it in more detail. But such articles are quite common.
    Come visit us here at Ilsan sometime.
    Sincerely, Molly Holt

  2. I’m a Korean adoptee who is currently living in Seoul. I happen to come across this blog and I feel so strongly for the author’s struggles.

    I’ve also just read this comment by Molly Holt. But it’s purpose seems to be unclear. If I had to guess, it would seem that Molly is trying to do damage control? Or speaking defensively? without really engaging in what the author is really saying here. Most of it is a recollection of a newspaper article and the author inserts her opinion most strongly at the end. Perhaps that’s what prompted the response by Molly?

    Anyway, about homes for unwed mothers. The author was just quoting that there are 72 (estimated from memory) homes in general and that the most were run or affiliated with Holt. So Holt has 7 homes (5 + 2 “small” ones). Well maybe that is the majority held by any one adoption agency? The major point in which that information arose was simply to say that the homes tend to be run by or affiliated with adoption agencies in general. And if I may, that raises the question of, is that really a sound and moral practice? There is the real problem of conflict of interest. So Holt has only 7 homes, but that’s a lot of homes still. And I’m sure there’s more than one mother in each of those homes. That’s a lot of people and babies being cared for in a manner that, while well-intentioned, could certainly be a very poor and misguided business practice. That’s the point that I derived from that reading.

    So relinquishing babies before birth, I think yes Holt’s president would say that things work like a well-oiled machine. But policy and practice are two very separate things. That’s why many universities have a specific college that’s dedicated to the study and effects of policy. And this article that the author is taking so much care to detail seems to me to be talking about ‘real stories’. These seem to be stories from the street and not from the reports of presidents of adoption agencies. So this is about what’s really happening out there and not what the case “should be”. You also mention “choosiness” but isn’t that a major point that needs discussion? It’s very clear that American adopters are just as choosy; they want a cheaper, faster, and “high quality” adoption that meets their criteria just as much as any Korean adopter. And I think that’s really key to drawing attention to the whole “baby selling” phrase. People are shopping and when they shop, they choose. And this has nothing to do with who’s buying; it has everything to do with an industry that is set up to bring out and encourage this behavior. Perhaps it used to be direct exportation only but, these days, the procedure is to offer the products first for sale domestically with the run-off offered for sale internationally. And if I may again insert some questions of my own, regardless of who’s buying, is it responsible and humane to sell human life and to cater to buyers’ whims and fancies? Aren’t culture and heritage important? Don’t babies, as human beings and future adults, have inalienable rights? Should decisions be made that are not easily reversible by the child once they are fully capable of representing themselves?

    Towards the end of your comment there, you seem to be asking if the author is reunited. It’s not clear how that relates to anything. If she is or not is irrelevant to the purpose and intent of her blog entry.

    On North Korean criticism. It seems very clear in that comment that you are definitely of the American mind of “us” versus “them”. We, as Koreans, are all one people. Their criticism is legitimate. They are not the enemy. We can take what our North Korean family has to say constructively. Also not many of us know what is happening in North Korea. I’m guessing only that you don’t as well Molly Holt. Dying from lack of milk? Well I wouldn’t feel comfortable with even saying anything remotely like that. Having harsh words for North Koreans is the same as deriding South Koreans. As a South Korean I feel uncomfortable with Molly’s comment.

    On government aid to mothers, while those figures are certainly impressive and the encouragement to save and make good use of the funds is appropriate, the information covers only the Seoul CLOVER Home. That is only 1 of the estimated 72 homes in Korea. Even if there were only 2 homes in all of Korea, Seoul CLOVER Home would represent only 50% of the total homes. If 72 is correct, then Seoul CLOVER Home represents 1.39% of total homes in Korea. And since we are unsure how many mothers there are in each home, it’s unclear what percentage of mothers are receiving the treatment described by Molly Holt. But I guess it would be a small percentage. And anyway, again, this article seems to be about actuality/reality and not what one home reports it’s figures to be. My intuition tells me that it’s simply not possible to know exactly what is going on everywhere and who is doing what. So that’s why these stories are so shocking. Because it’s not supposed to be like that. Also real-life business experience and cumulative life experience tells me that things are never quite as they appear in reports anyway.

    Lastly, in closing, to anyone who cares to read my comment, I would just like to say to read again the title of the entry which is “the truth of the adoption industry which no one is responsible for.” And to emphasize that these real stories are out there and yes they will clash with what those like Molly Holt has put into writing in her comment. Her comment and the author’s title are so very illustrative of the deep disconnect, misunderstanding, and frankly, frightening reality of the adoption situation in Korea. We can see very clearly here why no one is taking responsibility for this. Because no one feels they are responsible. Because some believe they are doing everything right and need not look more deeply or thoughtfully into the issue as a whole. And also, I’d like to point to another quote from the blog entry.

    “The Korean people feel pity for the adoptees, but also feel helpless to do anything about it.”

    This pity and frozen despair is also a very real social problem. Although we all despair from time to time, nothing ever comes from that. And pity only encourages the continued existence of pity itself. We, as Koreans have to respect ourselves more and demand higher standards for the society that we believe in, want to live in, and can be proud of. I think that’s why the author ends by saying, “have a little pride”.

  3. It will be interesting to see if Molly Holt is truly interested in dialog or just reacting defensively. Acknowledging, understanding, and apologizing for the obstacles that Girl #4708 has had with Holt,would show me that Molly Holt has adoptees interest at heart.

    The invitation to come see Molly, seems to be insincere and misjudged. Maybe my thinking is clouded, but as I understand wrongdoings according to the Bible…..if you have wronged someone, it is up to the wrongdoer to confess the wrong and to make restitution. Numbers 5: 5-7. It is Molly Holt’s responsibility to connect with Girl #4708, not vice versa.

    Simply put Molly, if you are here representing Holt, then take this opportunity to improve your processes, recognizing that all is not perfect within your organization. Begin with your post adoption services and understand the obstacles that Girl #4708 has faced, the reasons behind it, and what can be done to make improvements.

    Kudos to Girl #4708 for speaking against the social and political injustices within Korea and to the commentor above for clarifying the discrepancies of Korean law versus the practices of today.

  4. Thank you, 김철규 and btstormb2006, for your extremely thoughtful and well reasoned answers.

    I can’t tell you how proud I am that so many intelligent Korean Adoptees like yourselves are coming forward to comment publicly to lend clarity to this emotional and often irrationally addressed topic.

    I have to believe that ultimately reason and logic prevail.

    And now, now I am going to take a shower and walk around the block a few times before I attempt to answer the head of Holt.

    Thanks again for your support! I hope I can meet you one day and thank you in person!

  5. Dear Molly, please read my post Holt unscathed despite suffering of thousands.

    I find it quite interesting how you were raised in America yet don’t understand that addressing someone formally in a casual format such as a personal blog is both patronizing and condescending. The way you addressed me kind of sets the tone for the following response…

    I also find it quite interesting how you and anyone who informs you managed to miss a 12 page feature article about adoption during adoption day week which mentioned your company repeatedly, in a very popular magazine that has a distribution of 200,000, and your dismissal that such articles are quite common.

    Even more interesting to me is how you are now a reader of my blog, a few hours after I show up with a film crew at Holt’s Post Adoption Services office in Seoul. Coincidence?

    In response to your comments:

    2 homes for single unwed mothers to raise their babies. How many women can those homes support?
    5 homes for unwed mothers to give them up. How many woman cycle through those doors?

    Maybe if Holt had 7 homes for single unwed mothers to raise their babies, then adoption wouldn’t be necessary. But then Holt would be out of business, wouldn’t they?

    I applaud Holt’s policy not to participate in baby farming. However, this doesn’t exonerate them from baby exporting. History shows us that relinquishing mothers staying at homes for unwed mothers feel pressured into relinquishing, even if they sign post utero. And the concept of an “open” adoption halfway around the globe, an ocean between you, in a language you can’t speak, and a culture you can’t comprehend is an option most young women are going to find beyond the realm of their current possibility. Problem solved: Holt offered, so Holt looks good. They didn’t take Holt up on it, so you can say it’s their fault/choice.

    Why should you be concerned with their “rantings?” Because behind every criticism is an opportunity to improve oneself. Because if the blemish is there, ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. And Holt’s baby exporting is a major huge carbuncle on the complexion of Korea. It begs to be critiqued. Even those with a reputation for ranting can have valid points.

    Instead of flinging mud or dismissing what those critical of baby exporting have to say, maybe HOLT should rethink their methods and motives. Or, HOLT could continue on as they seem to by merely adjusting only in response to public opinion.

    As for the milk comment. I find it really offensive that you try to broadcast any of your North Korea biases here. I hear Holt is planning on expanding their programs to North Korea. If you want to plant seeds to promote Holt’s missionary efforts to babies “dying for lack of milk” in that land of “ranting” people, then please do it elsewhere. Why would I say such an unfriendly thing? Because the premise for Holt’s very existence as a company has been to “save” by removal. Holt repatriated against their will thousands upon thousands of us in S. Korea, and I’ve no doubt Holt’s aim is for more of the same in N. Korea – just like they’ve proven in most of the other countries whose social systems they’ve inserted themselves into.

    So if you’re really worried about getting milk to babies, then maybe you should quit Holt and work for the UN on food aid for nursing mothers, or join Unicef and work to preserve families.

    The point of the mention of the low amount of government aid to mothers was to show how Korea needs to improve their funding to these women. The point is that HOLT’s PRESENCE makes these increases unnecessary. HOLT’s PRESENCE is retarding social progress in Korea. And the handful Holt helps for a really short period of time does not impress when measured against all those children Holt still puts on airplanes. Sounds like damage control to me. Sounds like a way to diffuse criticism. So Holt can appease the critics and keep them occupied while they go on doing what they’ve always done.

    I ran this by a friend and they thought it was a little harsh, so I made it slightly softer. But there are things that need to be said. Publicly. Holt’s actions have had serious ramifications and they haven’t had to answer for any of them. While it’s true that what is done is done and not much can be done about it, as long as Holt continues to perpetuate these actions then we adoptees have a right to be angry and outraged.

    I find it really OUTRAGEOUS that this CORPORATION controls identity access of thousands of human beings FROM THEMSELVES.

    What would Jesus think about that???

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