International Adoption and the Fight for Human Rights

Conducive magazine has another piece on international adoption. This time an editorial piece by Hilbrand Westra, Chair of Adoptees United International.

International Adoption and the Fight for Human Rights

adoption has quietly become a large, lucrative business. While
international adoption agencies would no doubt like to keep it this
way, adult international adoptees are now asking questions. They are
participating in a debate over whose best interests the practice
actually serves, or should serve: the adopter or the adoptee? Taking a
critical look at the practice of international adoption, chairman of United Adoptees International Hilbrand Westra explores its disturbing overlaps with free market
practices and religious justifications, and lays out solutions for
practical legal reform.  Westra shows the power of an emerging
collective adoptee voice shaping what was once seen as an inevitable

You can read the whole article here.

Transnational Adoption and the “Financialization of Everything”

From Conducive Magazine, a new online publication, is this article by Jane Jeong Trenka. You can read the entire article here.

Transnational Adoption and the “Financialization of Everything”

International adoption is often seen as a mutually beneficial relationship between children in need of a home and financially stable adults wanting to raise a child. But it is also big-money business. In line with neoliberalism, or the hollowing out of government services, many adopted children are born to single mothers who are offered little to no resources to care for their children. International adoption agencies have stepped into this gap by offering homes, and making a profit in the process. The transformation of adoption into a global business creates a further incentive not to assist mothers, who may turn to adoption out of desperation, not desire. Adoptee activists are working to shed light on this issue. Focusing particularly on South Korea, author and co-founder of Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) Jane Jeong Trenka argues the process should be re-engineered to put the money and fateful decisions back where they belong: with the mothers and their children.  TRACK is now working with the Korean government to get the the voices of birth parents and Korean adoptees heard in South Korean adoption law revisions.

One of the arguments I have been trying to make for several years as a social worker who has worked for adoption agencies is one that Jane points out as well – that adoption is a band-aid and that social workers, adoption agencies and society should be working to eliminate the pre-existing conditions that lead to adoption as a service. Jane writes,

The adoption agencies would like to portray themselves as the leaders of the movement to end the monetary incentive behind transnational adoption.  They would like to be perceived as the people who originally came up with the wonderful idea to preserve families instead of separating them.  But, let’s look at this logically.  The ideal situation, which everyone seems to pay lip service to, is for children to stay with their own families in their own countries.  Therefore, the adoption agencies should be working to put themselves out of business.  The agencies say that they are doing wonderful work in “sending countries” to support families, but the reality is that the adoptions themselves fund this work. In other words, supporting vulnerable families is directly at odds with their main source of revenue.  Adoption agencies exist because of adoption, not in spite of it.  Their work to support families will therefore always be half-hearted.  This contradiction exists on the organizational level.

On an individual level, the very jobs that adoption agency workers keep, with which they support their own children, are dependent on keeping the existing order intact.  In other words, if the adoption agencies stop doing adoptions, a lot of people are going to have to get job retraining.  On the other hand, people who do not have any business ties to the adoption industry have no vested interest in continuing adoptions or constantly renewing their customer base.

Please read the whole article.

Petition to include adult Korean adoptees in adoption revision legislation

Adoptee Right to Participate in Korean Adoption Law Revision

Published by TRACK on Jul 13, 2009
Category: Law Reform
Region: South Korea
Target: Korean Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Family
Background (Preamble):
the 56 years of overseas South Korean adoption, the South Korean
government has talked about these invested parties, attempting to
represent their best interests. However, the South Korean government
has yet to work *with* them on the very processes that irrevocably
affect their lives.

Please go to this web site to read and sign the petition. So far, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family has requested a meeting with TRACK members – but they still need signatures.

Korea Continues to Deny Overseas Adoptees Access

L-3 United Adoptees International
Adoption World News


South Korea

Korea Continues to Deny Overseas Adoptees Access

By Jennifer Kwon Dobbs and Jane Jeong Trenka

Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family opened a central adoption
information service center Wednesday to provide post-adoption services
to adoptees searching for their birth families. However, there's one
significant problem that the ministry has ignored: adoptee access.

center is meant to fulfill the requirement of a “central authority''
by the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Click on the central
authority's new Web site ( featuring images of adoptees
for whom their birth families are searching and you'll find it is
completely in the Korean language. Can an overseas adoptee whose first
language is either English or French read or use this?

1953, South Korea has sent over 160,000 Korean children abroad to 14
Western countries. It is the oldest and largest adoption program in the
world, despite South Korea's economic miracle.

Reunion with
birth families is a primary reason for adoptees to return to South
Korea. From 1995-2005, the ministry reported that 78,000 adoptees came
to South Korea to search for their families. Yet only 2.7 percent were
reunited. What accounts for this low success rate?

Continue reading

Historic step for adoptee rights, adoptees urge full inclusion in adoption law revision process

Seoul, July 1, 2009 (TRACK) – Fifty overseas Korean adoptees and their allies participated in the second public hearing on the revision of South Korea’s civil and overseas adoption laws Wednesday at the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family’s second public hearing sponsored by the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KWDI). The discussion marked the first time in 56 years of international Korean adoption that overseas Korean adoptees represented their own interests in a governmental forum.

The ministry is revising both the laws on domestic adoption and intercountry adoption, called the “Special Adoption Law,” which has been amended nine times since its enactment in 1961, each time without adoptees or birth families as shareholders.

Adoptees were able to participate because professional simultaneous translation was provided by KWDI. The first public hearing held Feb. 26 did not include professional translation despite requests made by Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK), a nonprofit organization aimed at healing the relationship between adoptees and Korean society. The language barrier prevented 30 adoptees and supporters from speaking about the proposed law revisions.

Jane Jeong Trenka, president of TRACK, saw the provision of professional translation this time as a step in the right direction, but recommended that translation into both English and French be institutionalized by the government. “Any fair, democratic process on adoption law, as well as any just and humane adoption and social welfare policy about us must include us,” Trenka said. “We need translation every time. The adoptees did not create the language barrier.”

During the hearing’s open discussion, seven adoptees and supporters addressed Professor Huh Nam-Soon of Hallym University who leads the ministry’s research committee. Adoptees asked how the central authority will help them gain better access to their files, histories and original identities and questioned its objectivity. They also criticized the government for not creating a comprehensive social welfare system and for failing to include adoptees and single mothers in the creation, development, and discussion of the revisions.

Professors and professionals monitoring the law revisions process from overseas said in a solidarity statement read by TRACK, “We urge Korea to include the adoptees’ and mothers’ voices as equal partners in the creation, development, and discussion about Korea’s new adoption law.”

This public hearing was originally intended to be the last one before the ministry sends its suggested revisions to the adoption law to the National Assembly. However, after seeing the number of adoptees and supporters who turned out to voice their opinions, Park Sook-ja, director of the department in charge of adoptions within the ministry, announced that another public hearing might be necessary to further discuss adoptee and single mother concerns.

Since the 1950s, South Korea has sent away the largest number of children for international adoption in the world, with over 160,000 Korean children ending up in mainly 14 Western countries, according to government data. Although it is the longest-running international adoption program in the world, the country is not yet in compliance with international standards. It has yet to ratify the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and holds reservations to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for a full understanding of the practice of adoption, both past and present, to improve the human rights of children and families affected by adoption.

Jane Jeong Trenka, president

Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea
010-2614-0294 (English)

Taking charge of our own lives

A few years ago, I was interviewed by a college student who was a First Nations transracial adoptee. During the course of the interview, we talked about where each of us had grown up and when I mentioned my hometown, she asked if I knew M. I was shocked to find out that M. was a First Nations transracial adoptee. I had known M. throughout my whole childhood, as early back as elementary school. We lived a few neighborhoods away and played at each other's homes a few times. Like a lot of grade school friendships, we found ourselves in separate social groups in junior high although we often walked to school together and remained friendly. In all the years that M. and I knew each other, it never occured to me that we were both transracial adoptees. Of course, in hindsight, it was perfectly clear. After finding out about M. I wondered why neither of us had ever given voice to our situation. Here I had thought all these years that I was "the only" when in fact, there were more of us than I remembered. This is how the isolation of transracial adoptees functions in majority-White communities, where there is no language to talk about what is going on. We learn to ignore or discount what is right before our eyes.

I bring this up, because this past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with and socialize with some amazing fellow transracial adoptees. One night we were talking and one of my TRA friends mentioned how she recently found out a friend of hers in high school was also a TRA. Like me and my friend M., she and her friend had never once discussed their similar situation or experience.

Sometimes when I visit culture or adoption camps for kids and see all these younger TRAs forming friendships, or when my TRA friends in their 20s talk about the friendships they made at culture camps or culture schools, I get a little wistful. I suppose that is why now, at 40 years old, I especially cherish all the TRA friends I have in my life. This weekend, surrounded by John, Lisa Marie, Shannon, Jennifer, Katie, Jen, Kim, Lisa, Michelle, Robert, Lola, Kasey, and many others, nourished my soul. Not only did I have the wonderful opportunity to strategize and plan professional collaborations, it was a chance to be with others in a place mentally and physically where we didn't have to explain so much, where others "got it," and where we could relax and let our shoulders down.

It's not about not loving our adoptive families. It's not about being anti-adoption. It's not about didactic conversations about either/or scenarios.

It is about our lives as adults who have lost so much as a result of the separation from our birth families and birth countries. It's about making sure that all of you – adoptive parents and adoption agencies – understand.


The tide is turning. I can feel it. We still have a ways to go – there are many who still want to infantalize us, treat us paternalistically, like we are still children. But I can feel a change in the wind. It's calling our names.

Towards a Sustainable Transracial Adoptee Movement and Community

It's been one week since I turned in my final paper, successfully finishing my first year as a doctoral student. Since then, I've been busy working on a few side projects, first up is the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference here in my home town this weekend.

Along with John Raible, Lisa Marie Rollins and Shannon Gibney, we are presenting Towards a Sustainable Transracial Adoptee Movement and Community: PTO Strategies + Experiments on Friday.

Workshop description: Are we unified only by the largely unacknowledged
history of white supremacy at the root of the American nuclear family,
or are there also other important areas of our experience to be
explored?  Investigate the possibilities of a multiethnic transracial
adoptee community and movement, by observing and working with adult
adoptees on a series of Theater and Pedagogy of the Oppressed exercises.

Korean adoptee Mia Mingus one of Angry Asian Man’s Top 30 under 30

From Angry Asian Man  (thanks Amie for the tip)

Mia Mingus
Age: 28
Co-Executive Director, SPARK Reproductive Justice Now

she's influential: Because she's an agent of real-world change in the
reproductive justice movement. Mia Mingus is a queer, physically
disabled Korean American transracial/ transnational adoptee, living and
organizing in the Southeast. She currently serves as one of the
Co-Directors of SPARK Reproductive Justice Now in Atlanta and believes that reproductive justice is crucial in the struggle for social change and the fight to end oppression.

Read the rest here.

Interview with John Raible

John Raible has an incredible series of thought-provoking posts. You can read them at the links below:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

John is one of my favorite peoples. He's been a shining example for me. I remember the first time I saw "Struggle for Identity" and I was blown away by the way he seemed to articulate so much of my own feelings and thoughts about adoption. If you don't have the chance to see Struggle for Identity, you can still benefit from his blog. Go read it!!

Giving it away

Please read the blog, Sunshine Girl on a Rainy Day, by Lisa Dickson. She has a great post right now, titled "Let Me Tell You My Story – One Piece At a Time." I love this because it applies wholeheartedly to those of us who are adopted, and who are asked to share our "stories" on panels or in the media.

I've probably shared this already, but one of my personal frustrations is that whenever I'm asked for a quote or my thoughts on some "news-worthy" piece of adoption, if it's media-related they always want to know my "adoption story" over my professional opinion – even if they asked me because of my professional status. One time the New York Times wanted to run a photo of me with my adoptive parents, even though I'd been interviewed as a social worker. The story had nothing to do with my personal experience, yet the photographer thought it would make a better story if they ran the feature with me and my adoptive parents, even though I am 40 years old. In the eyes of the NYT, I guess that no matter how old one is, or how professional, an adoptee is always only valid as someone's child.

Don't get me wrong – I believe that stories are powerful and are what helps people understand complex issues better. With a human face to an issue, abstract concepts become more meaningful and personal to those outside the sphere of knowledge. Many of us who are asked to speak inject some personal stories to bring home a point. But like Lisa points out in her post, sometimes we become triggered by something in a question and it is very painful to be put on the spot and recount our feelings to an audience. One of my friends describes it as "slicing open a vein so we can bleed for them."

Adoptee or foster youth panels are set up for the purposes of education and advocacy but they can easily (and often do) become derailed into messy, personal queries from the audience where the panelist is put on the spot and ends up over-sharing or rendering themselves vulnerable. Lisa writes that sometimes we have the next-day regrets over what we shared with an audience and I wanted to give her a high-five in recognition. I have felt that more times than I care to remember.

So please – adoptive parents and adoption professionals who are reading this blog – please look at the ways in which you interact with those who have experienced foster care and adoption. Read Lisa's piece on her blog. If you are a professional, I am asking that you print out or share Lisa's article with your colleagues. If you have panels at your agency, think about Lisa's points and make a plan so that your next panel doesn't exploit those who have graciously given of their time and their souls to educate you and your audience. And by all means, for goodness sake, pay them like you would pay a "professional" speaker. After all, you don't ask a professional speaker to share with them all the most painful times in their lives.