There are a lot of people who are saying that the revisions to the Special Adoption Law passed in June 2011 and enforced in August 2012 are the CAUSE OF increases in child abandonment in South Korea because it “forces” women to register the births of their children.
I agree that there is a problem, but it has not been CAUSED BY the adoption law revisions. Perhaps it has been CAUSED BY a myriad of other social factors that were already in existence, plus MISUNDERSTANDING about the adoption law that is being spread around like an empty rumor. (In fact, it is an empty rumor.)
The Korean Family Registration law already makes birth reporting at compulsory. Therefore, birth reporting was not created by the Adoption Special Law. It is and was already required of everyone. The reason why it is new for the Korean adoption industry is because the agencies have historically always sent children for overseas adoption with a fabricated birth registration paper, called an “orphan hojuk.”(This is exactly the same paper that KADs will bring with them to the immigration office if they want to apply for an F-4 visa.) In the case of documented domestic adoptions, around 90% of them have been “secret adoptions” in which parents would register the adopted child as a biological child. This happened even though the adoption agency facilitated the adoption (Lee 2009).
Moreover, the requirement to register the birth of an adopted child was implied in the Special Adoption Law even before the amendment. Article 7 of the law before the amendment already stated that “The adoption provided by this act comes into effect after reporting complying with the Act on family relation registration etc.” As Professor Kim Sang-Yong of the Law School of Chung-Ang University wrote:
The ‘reporting’ in this article means a report of adoption, which is naturally subject to the registration of a birth. Therefore, the claim that the registration of a birth was not compulsory before the amendment of the act is totally baseless. The most important difference between the amendment and the old act is the change from reporting adoption to the permit system of adoption. (Kim Sang-Yong 2013).
In other words, if you want to bake a cake, you have to start with flour. If you want to knit a hat, you have to start with yarn. If you want to adopt a child, you have to start with a child who already exists legally by having been registered legally. This has just simply been ignored by adoption agencies in the past. They have simply passed off domestically adopted children as the biological children of their adopters. This has even been referred to by MPAK. This is illegal in terms of the birth registration. (Note: Some domestic adoptive parents had been telling their adopted children that they are adopted –which is considered an “open adoption” in Korea, even though there is no relationship with the birth mother — but they still were illegally registering children as biological children.)
Moreover there are already two ways to protect unwed mothers’ privacy on the family register already: First of all, after the child is adopted, there will be no record left on the family registration document (Kim Soo-jung 2013). Secondly, even if the child is not adopted, a “partial” proof document is available to use for the family register. This document does not show children born from previous marriages or children born outside of marriage but shows only the mother’s “current” status. However, it is seldom used because few people even know about it, even civil servants. Therefore when a family registration document is requested by the mother, civil servants automatically issue the “whole” proof document. Moreover, partners and immediate family members may get this the “whole” proof document, even online, without the authority of power of attorney (So 2013) (Kim Soo-jung 2013).
Now onto the international human rights framework. International law is considered above domestic law. Nobody forces a country to ratify a treaty. A state party willingly does that by its own volition. After it does that, it is required by international law to meet its obligations as it promised it would do. Here is an example of what Korea said it would do:
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Ratified by ROK on December 11, 2008
2. Children with disabilities shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by their parents.
The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Ratified by ROK on April 10, 1990
1. Every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have a name.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Ratified by ROK on November 20, 1991
1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.
Concerning domestic law on child abandonment, we also have already been in agreement for nearly 20 years that abandoning children is a crime in Korea:
Korean Domestic Law - Criminal Act
Article 272 (Abandoning Baby)
A lineal ascendant who abandons a baby in order to avoid disgrace or for fear of not being able to bring the baby up or for some other extenuating motives, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years or by a fine not exceeding three million won. (Amended by Act. No. 5057, Dec. 29, 1995).
Are Mothers Murders?
The other side wants to argue that the child has a right to life, and this is more important than the right to identity. But are we to believe that Korea is being overrun with murderous women? Really?
Even in the heartbreaking story about an adoptive couple who neglected and starved their child to death, what is clear is that it is not the biological mother who is a murderer! (That would be the adoptive parents.) Obviously these mothers who are offering their children online are not murderers because they are trying to place their children with adoptive parents.
Google “infanticide” and “mental illness.” The mother who murders her child is a mother who has a mental illness. The mother who is trying to place her child for adoption or walks up that giant hill leading up to the babybox is a mother who is trying to put her child in a safe place, and who needs information and help.
The practice of simply offering a child to a couple or taking a child and pretending it’s your own has existed for a long time in Korea. It was not created by the Special Adoption Law. This was referred to before as a “dog door” adoption because people would just leave children outside the homes of people they heard wanted a child. See Many Lives Intertwined for a description of that practice. “Secret adoption” as described by MPAK has existed in Korea for ages and you can read about that in the report that TRACK submitted to the United Nations in April 2012, well before the implementation of the revisions to the Special Adoption Law. Moreover, international adoption and the practice of dumping your child off at the orphanage or adoption agency has become ingrained into the Korean culture, thanks to the international adoption agencies such as Holt. So I think we are dealing with some of the aftereffects of a cultural habit of child abandonment that has been encouraged and funded by foreigners’ dollars.
I do not concur that there is a problem with the Special Adoption Law, but I do agree that there is definitely a problem with Korean society. What kind of society responds to a crisis like this by saying that we should reduce children’s rights (in other words, turn things back into how they always have been) instead of doing the obviously right thing, which is creating a society with moral and financial support for unwed mothers?
A Few Suggestions for the Korean Government
1. Give single moms more than 75,000 won (USD$69) a month to raise their kids so they don’t have to abandon them.
2. Enforce child support obligations for fathers and makes a government institution to pick up the slack in the case they don’t pay.
3. Do not let adoption agencies give the first counseling (in order to ensure that women are correctly informed about the law, their options, and obligations to their children)
4. Create an emergency birthing center for women in crisis.
5. Take the United Nations Human Rights Council up on its Universal Periodic Review recommendations – which includes not only supporting unwed mothers, but also doing an anti-discrimination campaign in favor of them, as well as creating an appropriate birth registration system.
7. One way to revise the family register law is to show only the “current” status in principle. (So 2013).
8. Establish Single Moms’ Day as a national holiday (as Adoption Day is now) and fund and promote it equally. (Adoption Day gets 100 million won each year, about 100,000 USD).
There are many more steps that can be taken to support single moms and reduce child abandonment. These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. Please read TRACK’s UPR report to get the full picture. Thanks for reading.
Kim, Soo-jung. (2013). The Importance of the Birth Registration System. Paper presented at the The 3rd Single Moms’ Day International Conference, National Assembly Meeting Hall. http://www.scribd.com/doc/142024568/2013-Single-Moms-Day-booklet-English-only
Kim, Sang-Yong (2013). Birth Registraiton and Protection of Anonymity of Biological Parents. Paper presented at the The 3rd Single Moms’ Day International Conference National Assembly Meeting Hall, Seoul http://www.scribd.com/doc/142024568/2013-Single-Moms-Day-booklet-English-only
Lee, Mijeong (2009). Reviewing Issues on Unwed Mothers’ Welfare in Korea: Intercountry Adoption, Related Statistics, and Welfare Policies in Developed Countries. Seoul: Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, Korean Women’s Development Institute.
So, Rami. (2013). Meaning and Future Agenda of the Revised Special Adoption Law. Paper presented at the The 3rd Single Moms’ Day International Conference, National Assembly Meeting Hall. http://www.scribd.com/doc/142024568/2013-Single-Moms-Day-booklet-English-only