Tales of Wonderlost

I'm a Korean-American adoptee living in Seoul, just finished my MA in Anthropology (yes, i took all of my classes in Korean TT). In my spare time, I volunteer at two great organizations: Korean Unwed Mothers' Families Association (KUMFA) and the Women's Global Solidarity Action Network (WGSAN) - a group that works on various issues, including with the survivors of military sexual slavery during WWII ("Comfort Women"). I also love cooking and baking and going to the noraebang ^^ To make a monthly donation to the Korean Unwed Mothers' Families Association, please click below!!
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that’s me speaking at the conference last friday. i also wrote some thoughts afterwards but also in korean. i need to translate both soon. if you look at the picture in the corner, you can see a guy at the left side of the photo crossing his arms and looking super pissed. he’s from one of the adoption agencies. i’m going to put that in the win column and call it a night. 

This is a revised version of the speech I gave at the  conference put on by Korea Adoption Services (KAS), attended by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, as well as the adoption agencies and adoptive parents’ groups: 

The Special Adoption Law revisions that went into effect August 2012 were lobbied into law by adoptee and unwed mothers’ groups and served to correct many of the problems of adoption in Korea for the past 60 years, bringing Korea’s adoption program closer to meeting international human rights standards. Recently, however, some have been arguing to re-revise the revisions that have been in place for less than six months. This would be a step backwards for Korea’s adoption program.

Claim 1: Because unwed mothers want to avoid the birth registration mandated by the Special Adoption Law, they are abandoning their children. This can be proven because the number of children abandoned in the “baby box” has increased.

However, the Special Adoption Law does not actually leave any record of the child’s birth on family registration documents. Rather, it requires that the birth parent have a 7-day consideration period and once the child is placed for adoption, the familial relationship between the child and parent is legally erased. The adoptee may later request their birth records. This process will reduce the number of adoptees who, like me, have been searching for their families with no success.

Information regarding the process of birth registration and deletion is difficult to access while stories about the baby box are being splashed all over the media, almost is if advertising it. The baby box is illegal and the media should stop reporting on it (and law enforcement authorities should act accordingly by shutting it down). Instead, the media should act responsibly by reporting information that will actually be helpful to unwed mothers (the Special Adoption Law, unwed mothers facilities and consultation services, etc.).

While it is being claimed that the number of abandoned babies has increased since last August, there are no statistics to support this beyond the one case of the baby box. Before trying to revise the law again, at the very least, a nation-wide study should be done in order to confirm or negate these claims. UPDATE: proof that the number of abandoned babies has not “dramatically increased”

Claim 2: According to a source related to one of the adoption agencies, the number of children being given up for adoption has sharply decreased and the number of adoptions has also decreased since last August. According to the adoption agencies, this is because unwed mothers are now putting their children up for adoption illegally or are abandoning their children in increasing numbers. Therefore, they argue that the law must be revised so that in the case of “underage” unwed mothers (less than 24 years old), the 7-day consideration period is waived and the birth registration can be done with the adoption agency as the legal guardian, rather than the mother.

However, we don’t know the reason the number of children being given up for adoption has decreased and an in-depth study is necessary in order to find out. One possible reason is that the number of unwed mothers who are choosing to raise their children is increasing. UPDATE: Unwed mothers’ facilities that are NOT run by adoption agencies (Aeranwon and DuriHome) are now reporting almost 100% and 100% rates respectively of moms choosing to raise their kids. 

Additionally, exemptions should not be given to “underage” mothers from the 7-day consideration period. I question the motivations of anyone who wants to do away with a period as short as a week for a woman facing perhaps one of the most difficult decisions of her life. On the contrary, the younger a mother is, the more time she needs in order to receive proper consultation and carefully consider her options.  In addition, the calling of unwed mothers up to the age of 24 “underage” is indicative of the prejudice against unwed mothers in Korea. This term is used to imply that the mother is not prepared to be a mother, however, if a woman who was married had a child at 24, there is not a single person who would call her an “underage” mother. 

Claim 3: Because it is realistically harder for them to be adopted domestically, adoption agencies should be able to search concurrently for families both domestically and internationally for children with disabilities (currently, agencies must first try to place a child domestically before they can try to place for international adoption). 

However, even though domestic adoption for children with disabilities has historically been difficult, it is wrong to use this as an excuse to essentially set international adoption as the goal and all but give up on domestic adoption. To have different adoption process for children with disabilities is discriminatory and a violation of human rights.

Claim 4: While those that are arguing for the revisions to the Special Adoption Law acknowledge that the law was made in order to improve the rights and welfare of the child, they are arguing that it is not realistic and that, “the protection of life is more important than any value or opinion”.

But I wonder, is there no way to protect life while still upholding our values? I believe that the Special Adoption Law, which has only been in effect for a short while, could be the answer.

Arguing that babies are being abandoned because of the Special Adoption Law is misleading. Babies are being abandoned because of the social discrimination against unwed mothers, not the adoption law. This kind of deep-rooted social problem cannot realistically be resolved within a mere six months. In Korea, unwed mothers essentially have no choice but to give up their children due to a lack of employment opportunities in a labor market that discriminates against unwed mothers and a lack of welfare support. The government must offer support to unwed mothers in order for them to be able to raise their children. Currently, 1 million won per month is spent on a child living in a child welfare facility. Even if the government gave only a percentage of that to unwed mothers, the number of women who could choose to raise their children would increase exponentially.

There is a logical flaw in the argument that babies are being abandoned because the adoption process has become more difficult. If the problems of social discrimination and economic difficulties were resolved and children were still continuing to be abandoned, then we could blame the adoption process for being too rigid. Until then, it is illogical to blame the adoption process – the fault lies in the social and economic obstacles faced by unwed mothers.

In conclusion, these kinds of social problems cannot be solved overnight and the government needs to create diverse policies in order to address these problems. However, going backwards and undoing the progress made through the passage of the Special Adoption Law is not the answer. Even if birth parents choose to give up for adoption, universal birth registration must be mandatory in order to both protect the child’s rights and comply with international standards. Every child has the right to access their birth records and no one, not even the birth parents can take this basic right from them. Over the past 60 years, Korea has sent over 200,000 children for adoption and many of our birth records, like mine, were falsified and altered. Because of this, the success rate for Korean adoptees searching for our Korean families is a mere 2.7%. Is Korea going to repeat this record of human rights violations or work to ensure that this never happens again?  If the intention of those arguing to revise the Special Adoption Law is truly in “the best interest of the child”, shouldn’t they be listening to the voices of those of us who were adopted?

ETA: here's my article about this printed in the korea times.

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    you hit the nail on the head. these people all think they are doing all of this out of good intentions. and to be...
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