Supporting Change in Korea, and the cost…


The adoption law revision bill has moved through Korea’s health and welfare committee with overwhelming support and was due to go through the judiciary commitee today for (assumed) approval.  It will then likely be up for plenary vote by the end of this month.

Strange how even though I’m no longer part of any activist organization, I was asked to be a signatory on a support statement given to the legislature and as founder of the facebook group,  Korean Adoptees for Fair Records Access (KAFRA) I was quoted in this article.

Ending South Korea’s Child Export Shame

By Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, June 23, 2011

Korean babySouth Korea is on the verge of changing its reputation as the world’s leading baby exporter to a world leader in grassroots adoption reform. The first-ever birth mother, unwed mother, and adoptee co-authored bill is moving toward a National Assembly vote with government sponsorship.

Read the whole article at Foreign Policy In Focus:  A project of the Institute for Policy Studies  A think tank without walls

Here’s the statement I wrote which was quoted:

For the vast majority of intercountry adoptees, our effective births occurred when we were delivered by planes to our respective countries:  all prior history is guarded by private interests in not one, but two countries, one of them in the land of our birth, a country now foreign to us, a country where we can not communicate, our mother country which, like our mothers, is pitied, marginalized, and sometimes feared.  We are told this guarding is necessary to protect the lives of our original families.  And so, to protect them (never mind protecting the adoption agencies or the fragile security of some adopting parents) we adoptees, who have been scattered across the globe, are forced to be bereft of all knowledge of the truth of our conception and forced emigration to whatever fate had been assigned us, ostensibly for our own good.

Yet, are we not human?  Do we not deserve the beginning of our stories as much as any other living person?  Do we not deserve a complete story too?  We are told the middle of our stories is all that matters, and we are to deny the FACT that we did not materialize out of nothing, that we came from somewhere, that we carry the genetic material of other humans with their own human stories, and that we were meaningful to someone, a real and not mythic someone, and that we deserve more than the fairy tales and myths we are handed.  This is disquieting on the deepest level.

Too often, birth family search is viewed in a threatening light:  threatening to the adopting family out of fear of losing the child they love and invested in, threatening to the adoption agencies whose hasty and mass processing left a trail of errors, omissions and sometimes malfeasance, threatening to conservative Koreans who would like to preserve the stigmatization of women as a mechanism of morally controlling society, and threatening to nations who have capitalized on the trade of orphans as commodities.  It is quite stunning how the truth can strike fear in the hearts of so many in control.

Maneuvering through private interest adoption agency bureaucracy in our own country is a confusing mix of legislation and company policy.  Access to our local records is dependent upon which country or state we live in.  Access to our Korean records is dependent upon whether the adoptee knows there are duplicate or original records in Korea, and that those records may have additional information (we are typically told our local records have everything which is often proven very wrong with perseverance and/or reunion) and that the adoptee has the will and tenacity to investigate across continents and languages with often hostile private interests to look into adoptee files they consider theirs.

The major argument used to thwart our attempts at withheld documents is protection of privacy.  While it is a fantasy/wish/hope for some adoptees to create a new life with two families through reunion, let us not cloud the issue of records access by appealing to these party’s fears of us undoing all that has been done to separate us.  I will take the liberty of speaking for all adoptees by saying we have no intention of harming the current lives of our original parents or adopting parents, and we know that mechanisms can be utilized to protect all parties, so let’s dispense with that excuse straight away.

Let us instead acknowledge that each and every human being deserves to know and own all the information there is about themselves, and how that information should not be held hostage by a private interest.  This is our human right.  It should be our civil right, wherever we were born, and wherever we live, whether we are adopted or non-adopted persons.  We deserve to obtain every document that exists about us, with identifying information obscured only if privacy papers have been drawn up under situations of fully informed consent.  We deserve to know the REAL circumstances behind our birth and relinquishment, our real vital information, our family medical histories, and whether any family has attempted contact.  When any of the parties do not want reunion, we deserve, at the very least, to know if our families are alive.  Reunions have proven that private adoption agencies fail to represent our interests and we believe there is a conflict of interest when baby brokers administer both procurement of children, distribution and sale of children, and then all post adoption services to those grown children.

Society asks us – we people who were delivered from airplanes, with questionable names and questionable birth dates, born of questionable stories recorded on questionable documents with conflicting and questionable information – to not question any of it, and to just accept having our rights violated.  Mostly we just want the beginning to our stories and confirmation we really are who we’ve been told we are. Having this basic and essential piece of ourselves held from us is maddening.  Having to fight for years for vital information, collecting dust in a folder in some company’s file room is criminal and inhumane.

Right now we are extremely encouraged about protecting the rights of Korean children in the future, but at the same time we have witnessed the defunding of Birth Family Search at Global Overseas Adoptee Link (GOA’L) our only real adoptee-run NGO in Korea, and INKAS – the Korean ngo set up to handle Post Adoption Services for us.  As monies are redistributed to handle family preservation social services and protection of Korean citizen identities long neglected because of international adoption interventions, what will happen to services needed for those of us who were never afforded these protections? And will the adoption industry retain its exclusive and favored status?

It’s going to be an interesting year as the answer to this question reveals itself.

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6 thoughts on “Supporting Change in Korea, and the cost…

  1. Great article suk!!! But did they misspell your last name? I thought it was Leith? I promise to send you an email soon!

  2. hey just catching up.. some really interesting developments lately! let me get this straight tho – GOAL and INKAS received Korean federal funding & were defunded because of redistribution of those funds to do current family preservation?

  3. It would appear so. They still get funding, but only the funding that was ear-marked for cultural experiences, and NOT birth family search.

    A Central Authority must be set up and funded to deal with adoptee records, because the Hague Convention protects our records. But it doesn’t protect our access to those records. KCARE, the independent agency that’s not so independent set up to facilitate Post Adoption Services will most likely become that Central Authority.

    The new law asked (we haven’t seen an English translation of the final version of the law) that the Central Authority be given judicial authority, as they currently have no power to access records and are dependent on adoption agency cooperation. We don’t know if they will be given that authority and if they are given some power, what they will do with it. Adoptees would like the government to be in possession of all records and give the agencies copies, but there is no knowing what the fallout of confiscation of records would bring. More fires, floods, extra recycling or box packing of shredded paper?

    The new law protects identities of Korean children through the legislative body. But (I believe) that identity will be sealed except through court order, which may bode badly for records access for them – and don’t know what the implications are for us adult adoptees. Nor do I know if we adult adoptees are grandfathered into these protections. I doubt it. If we are, how legal are our documents?

    There is really no knowing what the fate of our records access is going to be, given the still too-close relationship of adoption agencies and politicians. Hopefully Korea will not only follow the spirit of the law and go one step further to set an example of a country that really cares about its dispersed former citizens, or they will only follow the letter of the law and try to maintain a model which has provided conveniently allows them to do as little as possible for us cast-offs.

    I’m one of the few critics of this turn of events. Maybe it’s too late for us and we’re just supposed to take a hit for the future. But it’s not just about us, but about women who’ve lost their children and siblings who’d like to meet the baby they remembered and fathers who just found out they were dads. It’s also records access for them.

    We all just have to wait and see what transpires. None of us here know how laws are implemented. None of us know if there are public forums or how transparent the process is.

    And while I think the law is a philosophical win pointing to a more hopeful society, to me it’s only as good as the funding behind it. And of course something’s got to give…To me, adoption should be run by the state. As long as it’s a private industry where money exchanges hands, no central authority or administration is going to be free from its power and influence. And all Koreans as a people, lose.

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