Documentary “Forget The Past”

Forget The Past

is a non- traditional documentary, which explores the issues of local and international Indian adoption through the eyes of various children. These children all live in Mumbai Orphanages: Bal Vikas and Shree Manav Seva Sangh. This documentary gives voice to individual stories focusing on couples residing in Denmark, India, and the United Sates.

You can watch a trailer here.

More from the website:

The film gives a whole new understanding to adoption. It forces unparalleled recognition to the emotion and commitment that parents often face; as planning parents and as receiving parents. Yet, the brutal reality and all its complexities can be quite confusing to those who are not familiar with the international processes and bylaws. This documentary is crucial to the understanding and wellbeing of soon-to-be-parents and those children waiting to be welcomed home.

There is also an accompanying blog

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.

Orphanages or Adoption?

My response to the question over at Third Mom:

This has been an interesting and long thread. As an transnational adoptee from Korea, I am not going to answer the question because it’s an unfair one that posits me having to take sides. I can not speculate on the "what ifs." I am sure for the many adoptees I know who were abused by their adoptive parents that yes, an orphanage would have been preferable. There are also many adoptees who would say unequivocally that international adoption is better than orphanage. But for myself, I won’t answer that question.

That said, I will say that in my particular country, I have found out that orphanages do not exist for children like myself – those meant for adoption. In Korea, for the past 20 years or so, children for adoption have lived in foster homes. The true orphanages don’t house "orphans" they house children whose families have temporarily placed them there for other reasons – usually divorce or death of one parent – with the intent that the child will return to the home. Often, these children do go in and out of the orphanage at various times in their lives.

This is not true for all countries, and each one has a different system. Again, the reason I say that one can not make blanket statements. There are countries where parents send their children to boarding schools for years and there is little "parenting" done. Are we going to analyze ALL institutions or just those where it’s clear that there are "legal orphans" since some countries have very few literal orphans.

It’s a complicated issue, and so my response is let’s work on changing the way societies deal with the social welfare problems that create this discussion in the first place; lack of adequate health care, lack of reproductive rights for women and warfare.

Until those three issues are addressed, we might as well continue to stick the chewing gum in the hole in the dam and hope it holds.

Orphanages and Reform

I am really interested in what people think about this recent article about Karen Gordon, Adopting a Crusade (by Kerry A. Dolan, Forbes Magazine). I remember first reading about her in one of my mom’s women’s magazines a few years ago. I admit that this whole issue of orphans and orphanages brings up a lot of conflicting opinions and feelings for me.

For one thing, it once again brings up the whole tricky topic of caregiver hierarchies. What kind of caregiving hierarchy is best? The first thing people say is that "orphanages are institutions and all
children deserve/should/need to be with ‘families’ and parents."

Says Gordon,

would love for all children to live in a happy, nurturing home," she
says. "In the meantime someone needs to be dealing with the existing
problem." The unkind reality, she notes, is that most kids in
orphanages will spend an entire childhood there.

In the article, the children in the Hungarian orphanage are cared for in smaller groups of  6-8  with a primary caretaker. So those who say even small groups aren’t as good as a "family home" must be instantly discounting all the parents, adoptive or otherwise, who have 6 or more kids too (and that means a few of my friends). Because if we use that argument we’re saying that one parent/caregiver can’t possibly take care of that many kids at one time.

On the other hand, in Minnesota a few years ago I was vehemently opposed to a proposal for the creation of an orphanage by a well known do-gooder, Mary Jo Copeland. At the time, my reasons for this opposition were the same as the arguments most people expressed; it’s an institution, it’s better for kids to be in single families, staff turnover negates the idea of a "two parent" family benefit, and I was sure that children of color were going to be overrepresented.

There are good orphanages, it seems, like the one featured in the article about Gordon. There are bad ones, we are all aware of from the media (Romania, Russia, China).

But there are good adoptive/foster families and there are bad adoptive/foster families too.

Continue reading

Orphanage Report #5

Date: 6/18/1971

Case Number:  #7139

Location: Ilsan Orphanage.

General Health: is healthy.

Developmental report: She lives still on rice which she eats
just 2/3 bowlful mixed with soup. She feeds herself a big spoonful at a
time. She can not speak and is not good enough to express herself, can
just "mommy," "daddy," "sister" etc. simple words. Among children she
chatter pretty well, most of the time she is sullen.

Social relationships: She pretends to pray at the meal table.
She brings diappers or something if asked. She is unwilling to go to
strangers tho gets close to familiar. She plays well with children,
running about the room and playing mischief.

Summary and recommendation: 2 year and 7 month old Jae Ran is
a Korean girl. She is supposed average in development. She still needs
a lot more training, so much she must be loved. She can be adopted.

Orphanage Report #4

Date: 3/9/1971

Case Number:  #7139

Location: Ilsan Orphanage. She is still in Dr. A’s dormintory. There are 16 little children from age under 1 up to 2 1/2 years.

General Health: Looks all right.

Developmental report: For meal she eats half a bowl of rice
mixed with soup. Usually understands simple commands. She has a larger
vocabulary now. Is not toilet trained yet. Walks well. Can almost run.
Handling is good.

Social relationships: Can fetch diapers or bowls. Can point
to one who made mistake. Wants to keep nice things to herself. May try
to soothe a child younger than herself when it cries. May mimick
hitting if a big child cries. She mimick combing hair or acting out
songs when adults are not around. If a stranger wants her to come, she
does not come easily but just stares. Likes to stay with children.

Summary and recommendation: This little girl is 2 years and 3
months old. She looks all right in her physical and emotional
development. She seems rather behind in language development. She is
not very expressive of her happy feelings. Needs continued love and

Orphanage Report #3

Date: 12/8/1970

Case Number:  #7139

Location: Ilsan Orphanage. Lives with 16 children from 1-4 years.

General Health: She looks healthy being free from all illnesses.

Developmental report: Can say "mommy," "sister," and nowadays
she jabber a lot to herself when she is in good humore. Normally can
she see and hear. Walks and handles normally. Her staple food is rice,
but sometimes other kinds of foods are offered to her, all which she
enjoys without being choosy.

Social relationships: All by herself she can feed herself
without any help from her bomo [caregiver]. Plays well with told and
recognizes what is scold and liking through her bomo’s face. Does not
follow own bomo very much but if bomo calls her to come she obey. Gets
smile not so often and she only looks up at people who ar new ones to
her, feelinglessly. Seldom gets smile as she is so spiritless, though
sometimes when in good humore she plays well with other children.

Summary and recommendation: Jae Ran aged 2 years is doing
well but needs a lot more affections for her dark mood. Her such
condition would be better if she be adopted.

Orphanage Report #2

Date: 8/20/1970

Case Number: #7139

Location: Ilsan Orphanage. She lives with 21 boys and girls from age 2-3. She is quiet, grouchy and often cries.

General Health: Medium. She is rather thin and looks babish.

Developmental report: Hearing and vision seem normal.
Responds to her name. Understands simple commands and routine words.
Can say a few simple words like mama and daddy. Babbles to herself. She
usually keeps quiet.

Social relationships: If anything is given her, she will be
holding it tightly until she gets tired of it. Feeds herself.
Recognizes her own bomo [caregiver]. Cries often to be picked up. She
will always cry when she is put down after being held for a while. Does
not like children much. Is often bothered by children’s company.
Sometimes fights. Sticks up for her own.

Summary and recommendation: This is a 1 year 9 month old
Korean female. By orphanage standard seems to be doing quite well in
physical and mental growth. With stimulations and personal attention
she will walk, talk and develop faster. Adoption recommended.

Orphanage Report #1


Case Number: #7139

Location: Bak Bak Hap [White Lily] Orphanage.

Why was child placed in original orphanage? Was found in
front of TaeKu City Hall around 11:00 p.m. on 2/2/1970, and immediately
referred by the night-duty section of the City Hall.

Child’s response at time of placement: Neither shy nor scared.

General Health: Somewhat weak.

Developmental report: Doesn’t walk well as yet, but can stand
with help or sit up alone for play. Has 8 lower and upper teeth.
Appears a little weak and delayed in progress.

Social relationships: Is not shy with strangers. Doesn’t say
"omma" yet. I believe this child needs a lot of extra attention and
stimulation, seems o.k. just understimulated.

Summary and recommendation: Although she is a bit delayed in
physical progress, the child seem to enjoys a normal emotional
development. Should be provided good nutritional care for better health
and progress.