Opinion
Readers’ VOICE
Published : Nov 14, 2011 - 20:15
Updated : Nov 14, 2011 - 20:15
On overseas adoption ...

As an adoptive parent and part of a larger Korean family (both adoptees and Korean-born American citizens), I agree, in part, with both of you. Mr. Morrison’s argument is pragmatic, and I concur: as long as Korea continues to have one of the weakest networks of social programs of any industrialized Asian nation, which an infinitesimal amount of tax revenue going toward social programs, international adoption must continue.

Dr. Johansson, arguments regarding Americans and Europeans of Korean heritage adopting from Korea notwithstanding (as is the case in my family), I do think that some kids ― maybe not a plurality, but certainly some ― adopted from Korea or any country that they don’t grow up in will have identity issues, and this is something best addressed by honest discussions of nationality, ethnic heritage and individual identity ― and an adoptive family’s embracing their adopted kids’ ethnic identity. However, issues of reputation or face for the country of Korea should be the absolute last criteria factored into any discussion of international adoption; the very fact that reputation could be imagined to be equal or even more important of an issue than a child’s inherent right to grow up and thrive in a welcoming family of any nationality is simply another symptom of the Korean government’s conservative worldview and inability to put kids’ interests first.

You write that “As long as Korea continues to export the ‘child problem’ instead of solving it, the country will continue to have bad reputation among Westerners while children and their mothers will continue to be treated badly by Korean society.”

That’s an interesting but inverted way of looking at the problem, because “solving” the problem, for many Koreans, simply means not allowing international adoption. They see the problem as how Koreans see themselves in the mirror of international attitude, something you as a sociologist must understand, and not the actual underlying issue of children needing homes. To suggest that addressing the symptom of international adoption will somehow lead to the cure of changing domestic attitudes and thus lead to an increased domestic adoption rate is putting the horse before the cart, and can only lead to more children institutionalized and less with parents who love them.

What neither of you mention is that while domestic adoptions are increasing, for domestic adoption to accommodate the actual number of orphans in Korea and the rate of abandonment, the rate would have to quadruple. At the current rate, we’re looking at almost 150 years before domestic Korean adoption would keep up with the projected rate of child abandonment.

The real issue is that beyond arguments of who is adopting the kids is that most abandoned Korean children are not allowed to be adopted at all. The majority of kids under social service care in Korea are still institutionalized and are still not released to internal foster care agencies or the domestic partners to non-Korean agencies (Holt Korea, etc.) for either domestic or external adoption. There is very little knowledge or protest of this within Korea, strengthening my point: that people inside Korea who see international adoption as embarrassing are much more concerned with appearances than the welfare of Korean children.

The only way that anything will change is for attitudes toward unmarried mothers and single-parent families in general to change, and for Korea to increase its tax base or find some other way to provide funding for the social service programs necessary to support young mothers.

Until then, whether we like the idea or not, we have to embrace and further international adoption just as much as domestic ― or we do an enormous disservice to Korea’s children, who are the most important part of this equation.

Forcing kids to stay in Korea, either in institutions or in loving adoptive families, without altering widely-held cultural attitudes toward adoption is cruel.

Without a much more serious campaign to change negative attitudes (and Korea’s 18th century laws as they relate to inheritance and other legal rights of adopted children) and more funding for support services, nothing will change.

Until Koreans see adopted children as equal in every way to birth children, we must do everything we can to make sure international adoption not only continues but increases in order to find homes for the enormous number of institutionalized children in Korea.

International adoption is a pragmatic response to the number of children needing homes in Korea ― not something to be squelched in order to accommodate or assuage the attitudes of the most conservative, unrealistic and mean-spirited Koreans.

― Joshua Lurie-Terrell, Sacramento, California, USA
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