Wednesday, January 5, 2011

South Korea's Orphan Problem

I grew up in the United States.  Through primary school and university I came into contact with four adopted Korean Americans with white parents.  They were all loved, well cared for, and had excellent lives in America.  They also were all girls.

South Korea as been a large exporter or orphans over the last fifty years because of the unwillingness of Korean couples to adopt orphaned children.  The primary reason is blood.  Koreans generally believe blood determines a lot about a person's personality and future.  Another is cost.  Children are expensive to raise and educate and if a couple is going to only have one, then they want it to be their own.  Another problem is that even those Korean families willing to adopt are not willing to adopt little girls.  Only boys carry on the family name and boys are most likely to obtain a job that can financially support their parents in old age.

Only recently has domestic adoptions exceeded foreign adoptions.  There are currently about 17,000 children in public orphanages and unknown numbers at private institutions.

Story in the Korea Times:
South Korea has a notorious reputation of an “orphan exporter” over the years as thousands of abandoned children here have been adopted by foreigners, mostly Americans and Europeans.
In a bid to polish its tarnished status abroad and prevent possible child abuse, the Korean government has been encouraging domestic adoptions by providing foster parents with financial subsidies and other incentives. Since 2007, the number of domestic adoptions has exceeded that of overseas ones — but only as the government made regulations for the latter tougher.
Experts say the country still has a long way to go until all of its abandoned children find a new family and receive adequate childcare, stressing that kinship-conscious Koreans should be more open to raising the children of others. [...]
According to the Korea Central Adoption Resources (KCAR), affiliated with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of orphans adopted at home came to 1,388 in 2007, exceeding 1,264 cases of overseas adoption for the first time. In 2009, a total of 1,314 kids were adopted by Koreans, compared to 1,125 by foreigners.
These numbers reflect children adopted at home and overseas only through 22 state-certified adoption agencies. In reality, hundreds of children are adopted through deals made by birthparents and foster parents each year under the civil law, with many more illegally sent abroad.
“It seemed almost impossible in the past to see more Korean kids adopted at home than overseas. But in 2007, the number of domestic adoption surpassed that of overseas adoption for the first time in the nation’s history. If the current trend continues, local adoptions will outpace those by foreigners by a larger margin in the future,” KCAR Chairman Yi Bae-keun told The Korea Times.
He attributed a rise in the number of domestic adoptions to the expanded state financial incentives, including the provision of a 100,000 won allowance per adopted child, and a growing number of infertile parents. 
This was funny... you can look at the chart.  There has not been a "rise" at all.  Only a decline in foreign adoptions.  It also stated that the decline in foreign adoptions is because of tougher regulations.  Which means parents in Europe and North America looking to adopt have probably just been skipping over Korea to look at adopting from other countries with more lenient adoption policies.  Either there are less orphans overall or fewer foreign adoptions, but there has not been a "rise" in domestic adoptions.
Yi then stressed the importance of local adoptions to removing Korea’s image as an orphan exporter.
“But still a large number of children find a new home in foreign countries. Many of them are physically and mentally-handicapped children because it is hard to find foster parents for them in Korea. Besides, many Koreans are still reluctant to raise children of others, due to Confucian values regarding blood ties,” the chairman said.
Koreans are obsessed with blood.  I came to Korea not knowing what my blood type is and my coteachers were horrified I did not know.  If the government wants to improve the likelihood of Korean couples adopting, then Korean culture needs to be purged of all these silly superstitions about blood types.
In September, the Ministry of Justice unveiled a plan to revise the civil law concerning the adoption and other related matters. It plans to finalize the revision within the first half of 2011 and submit it to the National Assembly for approval. Among others, a mandatory screening system will be introduced to check whether individuals looking to foster children are fit to do so or not. 
Those seeking to adopt children will be required to gain prior approval from the court.
Currently, adults seeking to adopt children here only need to obtain a written approval from either the biological parents or grandparents. Children growing up in orphanages can be adopted without consent. This has made adopted kids vulnerable to potential physical and psychological abuse.
Yi projected that the number of domestic adoptions will continue to increase in the future, while the number of children sent to foreign countries will show a downward curve. “With low birthrates and other social changes in Korea, adoptions will be more popular among Koreans.”
The chairman said KCAR will play a greater role in bolostering domestic adoptions by carrying out a range of promotion campaigns and changing Koreans’ perception toward adopting somebody else’s children and raising them as their own. 
“We will also try to build up a comprehensive database containing information on children adopted by foreigners and their birthparents. A total of 160,000 Koreans have been adopted and raised by foreign foster families over the past 50 years. A large number of children born here and raised by foreigners are coming back to find their birthparents. We would like to be a great help to them in finding their biological roots,” Yi said.
If a Korean child is not adopted, then they are tossed out on the streets when they turn 18.  These children more than likely did not get a good education and they have no family support system and nowhere to live.  They cannot go to university without a home or any financial support or scholarships.  Many boys disappear into the factories or join the military.  The women just become prostitutes because it is the only thing they can think of to do for money and shelter.

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