Baby Exporting Nation: The Two Faces of Inter-Country Adoption

I encourage everyone to watch this film, Baby Exporting Nation: The Two Faces of Inter-Country Adoption, produced by KBS’s program, In-Depth 60 Minutes. This report is just under an hour long, and is in Korean with English subtitles. It first aired in May of 2005.

I first heard of this Korean investigative report several months ago, but I’ve been putting off watching it. I knew it would be heartbreaking, and it is. Although I knew the "facts" presented here, including the amount of money that exchanges hands and why international adoption is preferred over domestic adoption, to see it visually cuts deep in a way that reading numbers on a piece of paper does not. One of the mythologies people have about Korea is that it is such an established and "pure" adoption program. It seems that many people believe that the Korean adoption program is above corruption and impunity. However, as you will see in this news special, there are several unethical practices about the Korean adoption program that come to light.

The other thing I kept thinking about when viewing this clip, is that it seems so much like what I imagine the Baby Scoop era of the U.S. to have been like in the 1930s through the 1970s. These unethical practices seem so dated, but the stories in this news clip happened less than two years ago and likely continues today.

Finally, what strikes me as very important here, is that this is the Korean people who are critiquing the adoption practices – not just "angry adoptees" from the U.S. I think viewers will also get a glimpse into the complexity and ethical issues around adoption in general – and that there is so much more at stake here than just "alternative ways to build families" or "saving orphans." It makes me wonder whether my own Korean mother felt like these women in the film . . . and whether my adoption was ethically arranged or if, like so many Korean adoptees I know, were part of unethical or corrupt adoption practices.

This is the first critical documentary to come out of Korea about inter-country adoption. Aired May 2005 in Korea. English subtitles

KBS synopsis:

A 20-year-old unwed mother asked the In-Depth 60 minutes team to help her find her baby. According to her, the baby was taken by an adoption agency without her consent, as soon as she gave birth at an Ob&Gyn Clinic. The transaction of money in the background was traced between the clinic and the adoption agency related to this. Why is money involved to secure babies for adoption?

2300 children are adopted abroad among a total of 3800 adoptions annually. Human rights organizations criticize the government’s encouragement of exporting babies. Especially, overseas adoptions have a lot of problems due to the lack of a proper system to provide post adoption services. This is a shameful portrait of Korea, the world’s 10th biggest economy and a member of OECD. In-depth 60 Minutes is investigating the truth of rumours regarding overseas adoption through shocking stories of unwed mothers who were robbed of their name of "mother" and through the voices of adoptees who are returning to Korea

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

3 thoughts

  1. I watched in slack-jawed, open-mouthed, wide-eyed, stunned silence – except for the tears that kept coming when hearing the young mothers tell their stories or watching the young woman meeting her Korean family.
    My daughter was adoped from China. It was not until we had returned to the U.S. that we found out that she was from a small orphange that had only been approved for domestic adoptions. This orphanage sent its adoptable children’s paperwork through a larger, well-known orphanage to adopt out the children. We believe it was done for the orphanage fees paid by adoptive parents. The orphanage was/is very poor – as is the area where the orphanage is located.
    I read your blog to understand the positions taken by international adoptees. My heart breaks every time I think of how my daughter will struggle with these issues – although caused by different circumstances, no less painful or difficult to have to deal with.

  2. i watched this last year – it was an interesting perspective. i wonder if people think because it was done by korean “investigative reporting” that it bears more candor and or credibility? perhaps it does? it certainly shows a growing realization within the culture itself – one that i experienced first hand visiting seoul in november again for the first time in 4 years – adoptees exist, we’re real people, and the issue is worthy of primetime reporting.
    i say, it’s good to get something like this out to the masses; at the very least, as you poignantly underline, it helps to affirm an issue that is too often marginalized as coming from “just ‘angry adoptees’ from the U.S.”.
    right, wrong, indifferent – it’s in this that moral questions breed dialogue, awareness, and resolution – presentations like this help fuel the enlightenment.
    everything should watch this and much more.

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