Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Korea's New Adoption Law Is Horrible (one part of it, anyway)

[Update: I'm not adding too much more to this post, because somebody much more knowledgeable about Korea's overseas adoption situation than myself has agreed to write a guest-post with more information.]

Step one:
The Korean adoption issue is a tough one, that involves fundamental identity questions for a lot of people. There's a huge number of people who, before they were old enough to make decisions of their own (though some were old enough to remember Korea), were sent overseas to be raised by an adoptive family. Their experiences with their adoptive families vary greatly, their experiences trying to figure out their position in/among/regarding Korea vary greatly. The official Korean narrative of overseas adoption is one of guilt and shame: while he was president, Kim Dae-jung apologized to overseas adoptees in 1998. For various reasons, Korea continues to send kids overseas for adoption. This, obviously, causes a whole mix of feelings, especially for the adoptees whose experiences of adoption, or exploring the Korean part of their identity, has been one filled with hurt or confusion. I won't deny any of that, and I welcome comments and views from overseas adoptees who read this blog. I also invite links to the websites, articles, blogs, and communities where overseas adoptees find community and understanding.

Now that we're clear on that... Step 2: the post:

I'm disappointed to see South Korean policy makers taking the wrong cues from the USA, in terms of the way it treats women. The Korea Herald reports on a new adoption law that has stirred up some controversy. How do laws like these keep getting passed without public discussion beforehand? 

[Update:I am informed that this idea was developed by a coalition of unwed mothers and adoptee groups.]

Choi Young-hee (we’ve met her before on the k-blogs) has suggested that women who want to give their children up for adoption be forced to keep the baby for a week before giving them up, meanwhile undergoing mandatory counseling about childcare options within Korea, and the types of support available for parents in Korea. It also requires agencies to search for a domestic adoptive family before looking overseas, and requires more rigorous documentation and background checking before approving an adoption.

[Update, thanks to Shannon, a reader:] The thinking behind parts of the law -- in particular cleaning up the shady part of the adoption "industry," pleading for more support for unwed mothers in Korea, and requiring birth registrations so that legally shady adoptions (tantamount to baby-trafficking) stop, are well and good. I am vigorously opposed to the "seven days" part of the law, for a number of reasons.

Number one: Until I see scientific proof Korean women can reproduce asexually, I’m pretty sure it takes two people to make a baby. Not one. Let’s not be stupid... or sexist... which is what this law is, if only the mothers need to undergo counseling. Daddy’s just as responsible for that little bundle of “what’re we gonna do about this” as mommy, and it’s unfair to write laws that only hold mommy responsible, because she’s the one who carries it to term.

Number two: it assumes that the mother is the one choosing to give the baby up for adoption. We all know this is not always the case. The babydaddy, or either pair of grandparents-to-be might be the ones forcing the mother’s hand, even though she might well want to keep the baby. The article also mentions that the decision to adopt his usually been made before birth. Why compound the alone, isolated feeling some single mothers already have, by forcing them to spend a week with a baby they’ve already decided they can’t keep or raise? And if a single mom gets bullied or guilt-tripped into keeping a baby she’s unable to properly care for, and her family disowns her because of the imagined shame, or gets stuck in poverty because there's not enough social support for her to finish high school or college while providing for a baby... who’s to blame for that? Most of all, why not move the counseling to a time before the decision has already been made?

Number three: if part of the motivation for this is the old birthrate thing (to be fair, the article doesn’t explicitly say it is... but when discussing thousands of babies sent away from Korea, the low birthrate usually isn't far behind), then file this one away with cracking down on doctors who administer abortions, and turning off the lights in office buildings for “Go home and fuck day” as half-assed solutions that don’t address the actual problem in any way, in order to make it look like policy makers are trying to address the problem, without actually having to address the problem.

And here’s the problem: Korean parents are choosing not to have babies, or to give up the babies they have, because of the imagined cost of raising a child in a hypercompetitive country, and because of such a dearth of social support for parents, that mothers feel like they must choose between having a career and having a family. Abortion, adoption, late marriages, people opting not to marry, the "gold miss" phenomenon (as it pertains to gold misses not having babies): all these things are merely symptomatic of those two overarching problems.

Until these two problems are addressed, everything else is window dressing. Making it harder for women to get an abortion, or making it harder for a woman to give up a baby she’s financially, emotionally, or just all-around not able to raise, again, is like raising the legal speed limit on Tehran-ro and thinking that will fix the traffic gridlock at rush hour in Kangnam. There are solutions to the problem, but they are fundamental, infrastructural, society-wide, not cosmetic and ad-hoc.

Here are some suggestions that might ACTUALLY convince families to have more kids, and keep the kids they have:

  •  enough social welfare support for kids in single parent OR two-parent families that people no longer cite cost as a reason for not having a kid. 
  • enough open public discussions about single parenthood, and PSA campaigns and the like to encourage support for single parents, that families (not just moms, but the parents of pregnant women, and the next-door-neighbors and sewing-circle and church-group-partners of the moms of pregnant women) don’t see anything wrong with single parent families... or see them as opportunities to display human charity and generosity and community support, rather than ostracism. 
  • mandatory subsidized childcare centers in office buildings large enough to host more than a set number of employees. 
  • expansion of employment options using irregular and flexible hours that will be more amenable for people balancing work and family, but still well-paid enough to make raising a child economically feasible. 
  • stronger laws, with better enforcement, ensuring maternity leave, a job to return to, and non-discriminatory hiring practices towards single parents  
Number four: take a woman who feels trapped by her situation and society, fill her up with the mad cocktail of hormones that childbirth releases, and trap her for a week with a baby she doesn’t want, and pressure her to keep it with mandatory counseling, and friends, we’re going to have some nightmare case where an unstable mom does something horrific either to herself, or heaven forbid, to her baby, in order to escape the situation that makes her feel trapped.

I mean, for goodness sake, is it that difficult to do this counseling BEFORE the baby's born - perhaps in the second trimester, when morning sickness has faded, and before the baby bump gets big enough to hinder mobility, so the mother-to-be can undergo the counseling without having to deal with the mindfuck cocktail of childbirth hormones? Can we also make it mandatory for both parents (if the pregnancy came from consensual sex) and all four grandparents (who will probably be involved in raising the kid)? I'd be a little more OK with that. In fact, I'd be VERY OK opt-in family counseling made available for ALL pregnant women.

But singling out a new mother for forced counseling? Forcing her to do this is inhumane, and a recipe for disaster. Singling women out for this possibly humiliating, distressing, seven-day treatment can be read as slut-shaming at a policy level, and it strikes me as needing to go back to the drawing board. Should we do something about overseas adoption being the go-to option for mothers with unwanted pregnancies, and qualms about abortion? Sure.

But I think we can come up with something better than this. Perhaps (and get ready for this... your mind is about to be blown...) we could ask women who abort, who adopt, and who delay marriage and pregnancy why they feel like they can't keep their babies, and then form policy in consultation with the lot of them?


Richard Peterson said...

I want to start by saying, I agree with your comments regarding the matter, and the government doesn't seem to have put much thought into this new law, as usual.  Although, it does seem like they are finally starting to pay attention to the child's side of this whole mess.  

Generally, at some point in their life, adoptees figured out that they weren't anyone's first choice.  Their birth parents gave them up for any number of reasons: money, lifestyle, shame, etc.  Their adoptive parents adopted them for their own reasons: they couldn't have children, they wanted another child, but felt too old, the dreaded "I wanted to save a child."  There are a few more, but those cover a lot.  Basically, you aren't their plan A or they are adopting for a reason other than "I want to love a child."  If you want a good example of getting your mind around being Plan B as an adoptee, read this: http://juliasworld.wordpress.com/plan-b/
Then you move into the pure business side of things where it gets really evil.  I think the law may be in place to keep the wolves at bay for a little while.  Any birth mother that is on the fence about adoption is pushed to sign away her parental rights directly after giving birth while she's still drugged up.  That isn't always the case, but it happens more than it should.  That being more often than never.  They also prey on poor families who have more than one child and have trouble making ends meet.  I have a friend who was sold twice.  In addition to all this often enough, the mother's name is the only one on the birth certificate (sometimes not even her real name), but the father is present.  They may even be married.  It still goes into the books as a single parent giving up their child for adoption, so statistics are really no good here.

Those are just a few of the things you start thinking about as an adult adoptee.  My experience in Korea has been very good, but I haven't gone on a birth parent search.  Nor will I.  

The problem with making laws about adoption is that, as you mention, there are so many parties involved.  Very rarely is the child considered.  I'm talking strictly post-birth here.  I am not interested in getting involved in an abortion debate especially on someone else's blog.  This law isn't constructive, but maybe someone is finally starting to listen to all the children (now adults) flooding back into Korea.  I'm going to stop writing now before I write a book.

roboseyo said...

Thanks for your comment.

I'm getting feedback on Facebook and here that are helping the proposed law make more sense... but I'm still against the seven days thing, if the decision has already been made.
I fully, completely support the parts of the law about bringing the paperwork and documentation above board.Please keep the comments and links coming!

Which adoptee blogs should I be linking on my sidebar?

Richard Peterson said...

To be honest, I can't suggest many.  I tend to keep a toe dipped in the water, but I never jump in head first.  There is a lot of hate in some of the posts and I have my own opinions on adoption, but my experience has never been horrible.  

My parents did a good job making me feel like I was never unloved.  No matter what my birth mother was going through, what her thoughts or intentions were, I will never know and she will never be my mother.  She can't be at this point.  I'm too far along in my life.  Not all adoptees feel that way.Julia's blog is really well-written and she had a lot of interesting notions about what it meant to be adopted.  Unfortunately, she passed away a few years ago after battling cancer.  I would still suggest reading most of her blog though.
This person has a whole sidebar of adoptee blogs: http://ungratefullittlebastard.blogspot.com/2007/05/new-adoptee-blogs.html

You can look through to see which ones you would like to read.This post sheds some light on what we hear all the time:http://bitchyouleftme.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/shit-people-say-to-adoptees/As with all blogs, some are well-written and thoughtful, others are a jumbled mess, and yet others are better left off the internet.

roboseyo said...

Thank you very much for your contribution to this discussion, Richard. I really appreciate it.

Caitlin Saylor said...

I reblogged you on tumblr with my thoughts. I'm a Korean adoptee who has done the birth family search and had success, even though my birthmother was very young and unwed. Great post and I 100% agree with what you stated needs to be done about Korean adoption.  

I have been blogging my adoption story along with other things...but here's the link to my adoption posts:

Ohh...and hi Richard ^^

MadlocoB said...

I wonder if any mental health professionals were consulted on this. And what are the mechanics of the mandatory 7-day hold? Are the mothers forced to care for the kids for the period of 7 days, or are the babies maintained in neonatal care units with mothers being allowed unlimited visitation? The reason I ask is pretty straight-forward and sadly morbid: given societal pressures, very possible post-partum depression and other factors, I'd be concerned about a baby's safety. Not to mention mother's own depression and possible suicidal thoughts. And if unwed mothers become aware of this mandatory guideline, some may even choose to avoid hospitals and "dispose" of the newborns in more gruesome ways. I am sorry if I am offending someone's sensibilities, but the realities of life ain't pretty.
The US precedents they might have based this legislature on might have been misconstrued: mothers are not forced to physically keep babies for 7 days, but many states impose mandatory hold periods on relinquishing their parental rights, lest they change their mind. However, as far as I know, mothers are not forced into maintaining physical custody of unwanted children for any required period. Does someone have different info on this?

James said...

My nephew is an adoptee from South Korea.  He's still far too young to have figured out the "situation" so to speak, but my sister and brother-in-law are active in a local support group/network for Korean adoptees and their parents.

Everybody has a different story, and my sister spends a lot of mental energy on trying to raise her son in as loving an environment as possible.  That's what parents do, regardless of whether they're biological or not.  I don't think it's going to happen, but there are Korean adoptees who get older and end up resenting their American parents for "stealing" them from Korea.  She worries about this a lot.

So what do I tell her?  That her son is going to have a much better life in America than he would in Korea.  And it's as simple as it is obvious -- the biological mother was an unwed teen, and the father, well, he killed himself.  Not entirely sure about the details, but please tell me how a kid born to a single unwed mother with no education has any chance at normalcy in a society where the mom is marked for life as a slut and the father had the "good sense" to snuff himself out.  What we would consider cowardly, craven behavior is what many Koreans would consider "the right thing to do."

I love living in South Korea, but they're just so ass-backwards on this issue it makes me sick.  Slut-shaming Korean women and forcing them to spend a week with the baby is going to greatly increase the number of abortions, not limit them.

Sorry, I'm beyond rational discourse on this one.  South Korean society needs to stop treating single moms and their children like shit before they make any unilateral moves to try and shame desperate women into keeping their babies.  (And as mentioned, this will inevtiably backfire.  Unintended consequences are the root of Korean political culture.)

Guess what?  Korean women who want to have their kids adopted are already making a painful, life-changing decision.  They don't need to be reminded of this (and the analogy to the various anti-women, slut-shaming bills coming out of America is completely appropriate).

Bcheron said...

Interesting blog entry and comments here. I'm far too ignorant about what is obviously a very difficult and complex problem to comment on the adoption issue itself, but it's obvious from this issue and others that mainstream Korean attitudes toward sex and sexuality are psychologically very unhealthy. 

Richard Peterson said...

You don't have to tell your sister anything.  Every adoption story is different.  Of course Korea has a lot to do socially.  It went from Somalia-level poverty 60 years ago to being in the G-20 now.  It's still adapting as a society to those monumental changes.  It takes more than a single generation.

As far as guaranteeing that your nephew will have a better life in the US than he would in Korea is just plain impossible.  It may be much more likely, but there is no way you can guarantee with certainty that he will have a better life in the US.  He will have different social pressures and attitudes applied to him than he would have in Korea.  He will be asked a lot of questions at a young age that directly influence his sense of self and identity.  So better in at least one sense (money, possibly social status), yes, but not necessarily better in all ways.

wetcasements said...

 Oh please, let's not dance around the immediate prejudice he'd face starting now, as a four year-old, with a single teenage mom -- if he hadn't been adopted.

Barring the teenager winning the lotto, he'd be set for a horrible life here.  Even then, all the money in the world wouldn't make up for the social stigma of being a single mother.

Not that being a single parent is easy anywhere but yeah, I'd be willing to bet you any amount that overall things are going to go much better with adoptive, loving American parents.

Richard Peterson said...

I'm not dancing around anything.  I never said he would have a better life anywhere.  That's the point.  You can't guarantee anything.  Life could be difficult either way.

I did say it is much more likely that he will have a better life in the United States, but I also said everyone is different.  No matter what his parents do, he might end up feeling like there is a part of his life he missed out on.  He could have miserable experiences at school or in the general population he grows up in due to racism.  That isn't under the control of even the most loving parents.  It's how you respond as an individual that determines your outlook on life and your ideas on what may have been better for you.

There will also be a ton of questions about why his parents chose adoption.  They aren't always easy to answer, and the answers aren't always what the child wants to hear.  I made the point earlier that an adopted child is rarely, if ever, anyone's first choice.  That's an idea that society doesn't readily let us forget.

Roboseyo said...

"I made the point earlier that an adopted child is rarely, if ever, anyone's first choice."

Obviously he was to some unknown extent "unwanted" by his Korean family.  However, given the amount of time, effort, and, let's be frank, money involved bringing him to the US he was very much the "first choice" of my sister and her husband.  Maybe in the 70's or 80's it was "easy" to get a Korean baby to America, but it's a huge commitment these days involving multiple screenings, financial and professional background checks, and no small number of round-trip flights to Seoul just to get your foot in the door re: a being potential adoptive parents.

Maybe we're speaking past one another, but where you see impending existential issues (which I grant) I see a kid who is absolutely thriving in a new environment devoid of crises or social stigma.

Roboseyo said...

To be frank unless your sister and her husband never tried to have their own kids, then he was not their first choice.  If they tried any other method of having children before they decided to adopt, then he is not their first choice, but I don't know your sister's situation.  It is perfectly possible that adoption was her number one choice.  This is just what, in my experience, the majority of cases are.
I don't think you meant it this way, but by framing your argument in terms of money ("Maybe in the 70's or 80's it was "easy" to get a Korean baby to America, but it's a huge commitment these days involving multiple screenings, financial and professional background checks, and no small number of round-trip flights to Seoul just to get your foot in the door re: a being potential adoptive parents."), it can be misconstrued as you saying that a child who cost more in pure dollars is more wanted by the adoptive parents than a child whose adoption had a lower cost.  Adoptions may have been "easier" or "cheaper" in the 70s and 80s, but it doesn't make modern adoptive parents better people than people who adopted in the 70s and 80s.

With regards to the child thriving in a new environment, that's wonderful for the child.  But he's four-years-old.  He has a long time to develop his thoughts and feelings on the matter.  Luckily, he has a community of support, especially older adoptees like myself, that can act as a sounding board for his questions or identity issues as he grows older.  The internet has been a wonderful tool for those of us that grew up with absolutely no outlets for our unique issues.  I hope your nephew can grow up to see his adoption as something positive.  I am just bringing to the table the possibility of him having a negative experience, which many adoptees have had.

Personally, my experience as an adoptee was excellent from my parents' end.  I didn't grow up in the best community for an adoptee, especially as one from Asia, but I never doubted the love my parents had and still have for me.  There isn't a lot of hard literature on adoptee issues, so I've been trying to bring an alternative view into focus through my posts.

James, if you're living in Korea and you want to get a beer and discuss this, I would be more than happy to.  Rob has my contact info.

Roboseyo said...

I know some people who have always had it in their hearts to adopt a child, even before they discovered that they were... um... very proficient at making babies the biological mommydaddy way... and even though they had a kid before they adopted, and two more after, it had always been a dream of theirs to adopt a child.

I think, also, the amount of time, money and effort required to initially adopt a child must inevitably pale in comparison to the cost, effort and love required AFTER bringing an adopted child home, to raise them to adulthood... I'm not convinced that an easier process would necessarily make someone decide flippantly to make an eighteen year/lifelong investment in another person's life, because of a more or less streamlined paperwork process...

who knows what the future holds for any particular kid, but I like your comments, Richard, on the way mentoring, advice, and care can now be offered from the adoptee community, to younger adoptees who are asking the same questions the older ones have struggled with.

Roboseyo said...

If there is anything in this entire string of posts that someone who is close to an adopted person can take away, it's that there is support out there.  The internet can be used as a great tool.  Not just a place to play Facebook games.

Roboseyo said...

 "To be frank unless your sister and her husband never tried to have their own kids, then he was not their first choice."

Wrong, again.

Roboseyo said...

I wrote last year about Korea's abysmal domestic adoption rates, which are only furthering the problems facing children in Korean orphanages.   I think that until the rift between orphaned children and rest of Korean society is fixed, the government should just hold back on any sweeping adoption reforms.  Unfortunately adoption is probably the best choice for any single Korean woman who would like to be able to continue to live respectably in society.  

(here is the link) http://shotgunkorea.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/expert-says-korea-is-dishonored-due-to-lack-of-adoption/

Here is also the link to old photos of my husband's family's orphanage in Korea after the war.

Roboseyo said...

From your point of view it may seem wrong, but there are a lot of adopted people that feel as if they were everyone's backup plan.  My parents tried to have children for 15 years before they decided to adopt.  I don't know how you would feel, but it definitely made me feel as if I wasn't exactly their first choice.

Roboseyo said...

It seems clear from this conversation that each family, and each adoptee, has their own adoption story, and that it's not a great idea to speak of the motivations of people one doesn't know.

Roboseyo said...

Obviously from my very brief overview of the comments on this post it is very personal for many, how could it not be? However, if I may, I am going to approach the post as a female from an ethnic background who found herself from a very young age deciding not to have children because there simply was no support for me ( I am not Korean, just making connections). I enjoyed the post, and I think there is a lot of relevant discussion happening here. There is also a lot of emotion and something bordering on the absolute need to be right in the comments below, but I will simply comment that it has all got me thinking. Thank you!

Roboseyo said...

None of the govt. Business!!! Baby trafficking??? Oh yeah babies are so valuable cause it's not like just anyone can make one? I have 3 Korean kids and it's nobody's business what consenting adults choose to do with an unwanted child. Maybe someday Korea govt. Can become like our govt. And pay young mothers to sit home and have no life because a pregnancy that was
Fun!! But years later no one cares for the unwanted child. If someone wants to pay thousands for a child that means they value the child and WANT it.
Mind tour business!!!


Roboseyo said...

I think that saying that a child is not anyone's first choice is hurtful to the child.  Adopting my son was my first choice.  I have two older biological kids.  My oldest is a boy and my first choice at that time, was to have a girl.  It does not matter that I had wanted a girl, because I soon realized boys are amazing.  I could not love my adoptive son more than I do.  He is korean and is very happy, with tons of friends. 

Roboseyo said...

Lots of good ideas here.

Some context too:

Even though the current plan was arrived at with some consensus from stakeholders (i.e., birth mothers and social workers), the original "need for change" was publicized by conservative male politicians in Korea who were very embarrassed by the "baby exporter" label they felt was being unfairly applied to Korea. So - the genesis of this new policy, which chokes international adoption to about 65% of where it was three years ago and keeps children with their foster families (or in institutions) for a much longer period of time, comes from a concern for saving face - not concern for the wellbeing of these children.

Korea has a fantastically low tax base compared to similar countries (Japan, Taiwan) in the region, and compared to industrialized first world countries in general. There is next to no social security net, and very few programs available - and very little funding - for parentless children, single mothers, etc. Thus, one reason many young women don't keep children is that unless they have a lot of support from their families, they just can't afford to - there are no food stamps, there is very little healthcare availability, there is no birth control or family planning, etc.

In fact, as of 2006, more than half of the funding for Korea's limited fostercare system came from agencies like Holt International / Holt Korea, who use the lion's share of fees that are NOT paid to the federal government to fund one of the richest fostercare systems in the first world. In fact, per capita, foster mothers receive better assistance in Korea than in the US (which isn't saying much). The rules are much more stringent, too.

Without international adoption, the currently 70% of healthy Korean orphans who are currently in foster care would all be in institutions, as they were before the international agencies began funding the public/private fostercare system.

So, to anyone who has a problem with the adoption "industry": remember, without massive public education and tax increases in Korea, your calling for a reduction of international adoption would equal a transfer of thousands of children from loving, healthy foster homes back to the government-run institutions previously used to warehouse Korea's unwanted children.

The domestic adoption rate has gone up from 8% to 12% in the last five years - this 4% increase the product of a small public relations campaign put on by the Korean government. Somehow, this rate, which seems to be slowing slightly since 2010, is supposed to supplant international adoption once the latter ceases entirely by government mandate in a few years.

So, unfortunately, it looks like the cost of saving face internationally for the Korean government will be the welfare of its children, who will be let down twice by their country: first, by often being given up by mothers who can't afford to keep them, and second, by being denied a loving family.