The plight of abandoned Korean babies

Ironically, it seems that a new law to protect children and Korea’s image is leading to an increase of abandoned babies.  According to the Chicago Tribune (October 7, 2012):

South Korea is trying to shed a reputation of being a source of babies for adoption by people abroad. It is encouraging domestic adoption and tightening up the process of a child’s transfer from birth mother to adoptive parents.

The law that took effect in August is aimed at ensuring adoption is more transparent and makes it mandatory for parents to register newborns if they want to give them up.

But the regulation aimed at seeing more thorough records are kept, though well intentioned, has sparked a surge of undocumented babies being abandoned, said Pastor Lee Jong-rak.

“If you look at the letters that mothers leave with their babies, they say they have nowhere to go, and it’s because of the new law,” Lee told Reuters.

Lee, who opened his “baby box” for unwanted infants three years ago, said he had seen the number being left there shoot up from an average of five a month to 10 in August and 14 in September.

There is a lot of stigma associated with Korean adoptions and a lot of it seems to be resentment.  Remember this case only a month ago – the woman who had been illegally adopted (SBS-Australia, September 18, 2012)?

Jane Jeong Trenka, the president of Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) says many adult Korean adoptees that have returned to be reunited with their Korean parents have found themselves to be the subject of a forced adoption, kidnappings or forged identity.

Ms Trenka says money was the driving force behind illegal adoptions.

“It is widely known today that intercountry adoption is driven by huge sums of money,” she said. “It is, in fact, an industry.”

“In the days when South Korea was not economically developed, it was a way to secure precious foreign currency. Today, the intercountry adoption program is a way to save money on social spending.”

Korean adoption agencies undoubtedly suffered as a result of all this negative press but the story took a strange twist (SBS – Australia September 27, 2012):

An Australian woman who believed she had been falsely adopted in South Korea, has since learned that this may not be the case.


However, after the story ran on the SBS website last week (September 18th) it has emerged the South Korean adoption agency has since been in contact with Emily’s mother.

The adoption agency says it has a fingered-printed document to support their claim that Emily was in fact relinquished for adoption.

While South Korea is apparently making it more difficult for overseas adoptions the United States is making it easier to adopt North Korean children.  In fact, some are saying the United States has  moral obligation to do so.  Almost seems like a flashback to the years following the Korean War.  According to Radio Free Asia (September 12, 2012):

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that while many North Koreans face extreme repression, malnutrition, and poverty, those threats often take the greatest toll on the country’s children. Thousands of North Koreans facing starvation and disease have fled the country and now live as refugees in China, Mongolia, Thailand and other Southeast Asia nations where they remain susceptible to human trafficking and are at risk of being repatriated and facing persecution.

“Imagine what happens when a child’s natural protectors—parents—are no longer in the picture. And imagine what happens when that child is born or orphaned inside China where the child lacks legal status, or dependable access to social services,” she said.

“Malnutrition, abuse, exploitation, lack of education—these are the horrors that are faced by orphans of North Korean origin who are effectively stateless and without protection.” She went on to say that the U.S. is home to the largest Korean ethnic population outside of Northeast Asia and that many of the nearly two million Americans of Korean descent have family ties to North Korea. “Numerous American families would like to provide caring homes to these stateless North Korean orphans,” she said.


Ros-Lehtinen said that the bill would require the State Department to “take a broad look” at the diplomatic and documentation challenges facing American families who seek to adopt the refugee orphans.

“Doing the right thing is not always easy. I especially want to applaud those adoptive parents—both past and future—who invest their own lives and homes to provide loving families for some of the world’s most endangered children,” she said.

Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. has a moral obligation to help North Koreans suffering rights abuses.

  • hgpig1

    as an adoptive parent I know this is much much more complex that these articles indicate. north korean children in china are not usually orphans, rather political refugees, but china is refusing to treat them as such. if the US govt would encourage China to follow it’s own laws/regulations about political refugees, then the North Koreans who are being treated horribly there would options, including allowing families to stay together. Until that avenue is exhausted, there is no reason for the American govt to remove North Korean child refugees from China even if that is what the Chinese govt wants. If this really was a legit issue of parent-less children, there are several other avenues that would allow a better outcome. It is no more a ‘rescue’ of poor little orphans that the Haiti based news stories of ‘orphans’ being ‘saved’ to the US which turned out to be oversimplified misdirected zealots. Sorry, there is much more to this tale of woe.

  • jonomo

    I think it’s just outright evil and twisted how many Koreans demonise foreign adoption and then turn right around and make domestic adoption into some taboo.. My wife and I are Korean and we have no children of our own.. We plan on adopting in the near future and have in the past volunteered at orphanages and continue to donate when ever we can.. Whenever I tell another Korean that we are planning on adopting, they just outright tell us what a bad idea that is.. when I ask why? They site ridiculous reasons that seem straight out of some 80’s Korean drama, like “what if you need to get a blood donation from your child!”.. WTF!.. I’ve never seen any other situation where people intentionally try to stop others from doing something that is clearly good..

  • WangKon936

    A lot of adoptees do end up in good homes, but here is a situation where it didn’t happen like that:

  • JW

    Wangkon, I saw that documentary. They appear to be mentally capable of carrying on normal lives, but then when their brother from korea approached them, by the way they reacted — yelling and immediate calls to police — it also appeared that they are in need of psychiatric counseling. In my opinion it’s a freakishly bad outcome that shouldn’t be used as a datapoint when discussing the good vs bad in adopting.

  • WangKon936

    I’m not using it as a data point condemning adopting. Overall, I think adoption is good. I’m just describing one instance where it didn’t work out well.

  • Arghaeri

    There are far too many “human factors” for it ever to be a success in every case, bad humans will be bad parents however they become parents.

    But at least on balance they want and choose to have the child from the outset, and some of the potential worst cases are filtered out.

  • guitard

    Ileana Ros-Lehtinen … went on to say that the U.S. is home to the largest Korean ethnic population outside of Northeast Asia and that many of the nearly two million Americans of Korean descent have family ties to North Korea. “Numerous American families would like to provide caring homes to these stateless North Korean orphans,” she said.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into this lady’s statement … but it sounds like she is saying that because a Korean-American has ancestral ties to North Korea, he/she should feel obligated to adopt North Korean babies.

    IMHO, that’s taking things a bit too far.

  • Arghaeri

    I think she’s reading too much onto her own statement? What ate these great links tbat 2million korean american have with NK,the border has been closed for what 60 years.

    And how exactly did all these north korean orphans become stateless. When exactly did NK start expelling orphans over the chinese border?

  • Arghaeri

    Even now reading the earlier parts of her statement it doesn’t make a lot of sense, just how many become orphan after the parents cross the border, statistically this is surely pretty small.

  • Q

    Some adoption cases result in sad failure.

    Korean society cannot blame the adoptee for his crime.

  • songcharmer

    You guys need updated.
    The SBS news reported is not true.
    The biological mom made apology to people
    because she had made lying about her adoption.
    It was she that did offer her baby and ask adoption
    to the agency.