NPR story about the IKAA conference and Korean adoptees

Here is a report from NPR about the IKAA conference I attended. Some interesting things. The reporter, Mr. Strother, approached myself and a few of our friends as we sat in the Sofitel ballroom selling copies of Outsiders Within. He asked us about whether we or anyone we know would be willing to be interviewed by him for this report, especially if we opposed or disagreed with ASK. We told him that we felt it was irresponsible journalism to pit two groups of adoptees against each other in such a way; that it increases the dialogue that there is only two ways of seeing things, and suggested that it be framed less as an "either/or" and more of a discussion of the complexities involved in international adoption and Korean domestic adoption policies. The reporter seemed to take our comments to heart and yet I believe that this is inherently the problem with all such media – that there has to be (for brevity?) a quick look at the two opposing views.

One of the misunderstandings this report perpetuates is that the children in orphanages are literal orphans (meaning that their parents are decease). Children in ophanages like those in South Korea (and many other countries – think of David Banda in Malawi) have one or more parents who are alive. In Korea specifically, the children in orphanages are not due to the death of their parents or are relinquished by an unmarried woman; they are there due to parental divorce. Most often, when the parents are divorced, the father assumes custody of the children. If the father decided not to support his children – and there is no forced custody support – or the child lives with the mother (again, without the financial support from their father) and she cannot financially support the child, then the children are sent to orphanages. Sometimes when the parent(s) get on their feet financially they come back and reclaim the child and sometimes the parents visit often, but most are there to remain until they "age out" of the "system."

Think of it in this way – it would be more like this scenario in the United States. A couples decides to divorce. They can not "afford" to raise their children so they bring them to a group home or a foster home to be raised "indefinitely." Sometimes they might visit, or they might not. Maybe the kid would just grow up in the group home or foster home, knowing who their parents are, but never living with them again.

These are not children who have been abused or neglected, these are just kids of "poor families." These are not kids who have been taken away from their parents.

These children are not allowed to be "relinquished" for adoption – and that, to some, seems to be a big problem. Some of the social workers/adoptees I met feel that these children are "lingering and languishing" in orphanages and that the government should change the laws and allow them to be adopted.

What about changing the laws so that it’s not legal to dump kids off in an orphange because of divorce? What about laws that support single parenting?

I think it is wrong for Korean fathers to abdicate their financial responsibilities to their children. This isn’t about children completely without families and communities to care for them. Why are children allowed to be in orphanages because of parental divorce? Why aren’t fathers required to provide for them financially? Some of these orphanages that my colleague and friend visited personally, seem more like boarding schools.

It is mistaken to believe that the numbers of children in orphanages mean that Korea has a problem with orphaned children or that it’s just about birth mothers who are too young or too poor. This has to do with a society that needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, about how they "value" children. Reports like this one by NPR seem to reinforce this idea that all these children in orphanages are available for adoption; they are not. And it doesn’t do anyone any good to think the answer to getting kids out of orphanages is to merely make them "available" for adoption. There are other solutions.

I think they are on their way; and the more we continue to bail them out and be their social welfare program, the less incentive they have for doing it for themselves.

Korean Adoptees Examine Origins, Upbringings

by Jason Strother

All Things Considered, August 25, 2007

Some 600 adoptees from South Korea recently attended a convention in Seoul to share experiences and to learn more about their birth country. Since the Korean War in the 1950s, more than 200,000 orphaned South Korean babies have been sent to live with Western families — over half of them to American homes. While the number of overseas adoptions from South Korea has declined, it still sends about 2,000 children abroad each year.

Hear the story here.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

2 thoughts

  1. I absolutely do not mean to say that I think adoption is the answer at all, let alone international adoption, but –
    I lived in foster homes for several years – up to about when I became a teenager. I was treated well. Fed well. Nice clothes. Nice people even.
    But when I thought that was it for me (my mom was no longer able to take care of anyone), I can say I was very happy to end up in the abusive situation I did afterwards. I preferred an abusive step parent to the fog that was foster homes. I felt isolated. Alone.
    Maybe it was just me?

  2. When I lived in Korea, this social problem really bothered me that many of the children in orphanages were there because their parents who chose to get divorced also chose to basically desert their children in the hopes of finding a new spouse (since getting remarried with children is much harder there than in the USA). Since the court system favors fathers over mothers for child custody, it essentially is the fathers who are doing this to their children which is a real shame. I agree the Korean laws should be changed to make sure parents are taking responsibility for their kids instead of the other option wanting to change the laws to make them available for international adoption. I am the mother of a daughter adopted from Korea but in no way do I see her own circumstances for being placed for adoption as the same as those who divorce and desert their kids in hopes of getting remarried.

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