Adoption from South Korea: Isn’t 50 Years ENOUGH?

Beginning as an emergency measure in the mid-1950s, the Korean international adoption program grew from a small, post-war rescue operation to its peak in the mid-1980s, when over 8,000 children per year were sent out of Korea for adoption. Most were sent to the U.S., often with the assistance of Christian organizations.




Rapid industrialization, urbanization, and poverty kept the program open in the 1970s and 1980s. The number of South Korean children sent abroad for adoption abruptly dropped as a result of negative world media coverage during the 1988 Summer Olympics, but has hovered around the 2,000 mark since 1991, according to Korean government data.

Adoption from South Korea has remained relatively stable for the past 16 years, but the growing numbers of children being adopted from other countries has created the illusion that numbers are dropping dramatically.



Since the IMF crisis in 1997, single mothers have been targeted as the new source of Korean children for the West. The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported that in 2004, all but one of the 2,257 children adopted overseas came from single mothers. About 70% of single mothers relinquish their children for adoption in South Korea, compared with less than 1% in the U.S. North Korea does not have an international adoption program.

South Korea’s dependence on the international adoption program has stunted the growth of more appropriate government-funded social welfare programs, as well as delayed the social acceptance of single-parent families.

With the 11th-largest economy of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and the third-largest economy in Asia, South Korea is no longer an impoverished country. Moreover, with a 1.13 percent birthrate in 2006, the country has the lowest birthrate in the OECD. The impending demographic crisis coupled with the country’s prosperity makes it clear that South Korea can and must take responsibility for caring for its own children within its own borders.

International adoption is NOT the solution. Instead, the South Korean government must find its own solution by investing in sex education, supporting single parents and creating incentives for domestic adoption.




6 responses to “Adoption from South Korea: Isn’t 50 Years ENOUGH?

  1. For twenty five years, I have supported two orphanages in Korea. In the early years, both provided in country and international adoption for those children who could be adopted. Both also worked to keep families together. The directors of these homes have given their entire life for children in Korea. During the past ten years, one has opened up a home for single moms who want to parent their children and one has a home for children whose parents are divorced but neither can parent their child. Both work with children who have been abused. Both homes receive support from adoptees who were placed with families in the United States. How many of you who actively advocate for a continual decrease in international adoption are also financially funding change?

  2. I thank you for supporting family preservation and also remembering the children who live in Korea. You make a valid point about people backing their politics with action. I am not sure how many people are financially contributing to single mothers and children’s homes and orphanages, but information about your favorite organizations, why they’re your favorite, and how to donate would be appreciated. What adoptees often want to know is if the organization still supports international adoption, or if they have stopped doing it.
    I agree that for people living outside of Korea, perhaps one of the best ways they can contribute is financially.
    However, I know many adoptees who are contributing the best way they can, whether financially or not. Many adoptees who have chosen to repatriate to Korea have a hard time earning enough money to even live in decent housing, so they contribute in other ways, such as by translating, coordinating, making regular visits to unwed mothers’ homes and orphanages, etc. I think there is a way for all of us to use our skills, time and resources to help Korean families stay together if that is what we’re preaching.
    That said, I think we American adoptees in particular have a responsibility to not ignore the 110,000 institutionalized children in the U.S., or the 119,000 who are waiting to be adopted. There is a lot of suffering right in our American backyards which I’m afraid gets overlooked in international adoption circles. I think it is terribly unfair for older American children who have been abused, etc. to go without permanent homes meanwhile the Korean unwed mothers “problem” — which is actually tiny in comparison — really insignificant in the scope of the world — draws so much attention. I happen to be interested in it primarily because I am Korean, but also because intellectually I’m interested in the moral ambiguity of international adoption, and of course because international adoption is the lens through which we can contextualize and personalize at a lot of American imperialism, consumerism, arrogance, paternalism, etc., as well as Korea’s patriarchy (which is growing more and more irritating to me every day)!

    Regarding financial donations, there is also the conundrum that S. Korea does not, in my opinion, need foreign donations. South Korea is a DONOR COUNTRY itself. The problem is that the govt has just decided to not fund social welfare programs. So in a way, although the money is badly needed in orphanages, etc. it also disincentivizes the govt from taking care of its own problems. Why should they bother to take care of things when foreigners will do it for them?

    If you had only $1 to spend it would probably go a lot further for people in Africa who are dying of diarrhea because they don’t have clean water than it would in Seoul, which, according to one estimate, is 22.4% more expensive to live in than New York.

    Thanks for writing and please go ahead and post your info!

  3. I believe there is also a responsibility on the part of adoptive parents to contribute to making themselves obsolete and to the home culture and families of their children.

  4. Pingback: » Say My Name

  5. I was born in Seoul Korea in the 80’s, to an unmarried young girl. She struggled to take care of us for 4 years. When I was 4 she had an offer to marry, but she had to give me up to marry. So she left me in our studio apartment in seoul, after a few days a man found me alone, hungry and dirty. He brought me to an orphanage where I was then moved 19 times in a little less then 3 years. At age 7 I was finally adopted, I had to take a 2 day flight to get to the u.s. When I got here I could not understand 1 word of english, & my adopted parents did not speak Korean. I was not aloud to speak my own language because they did not know what I was saying. I was not aloud to eat korean food because they did not like the smell. I was not aloud to have my religious beliefs because they are christian. That being said, any woman, young or old, would not care for someone for over 4 years to leave them behind. If the people of Korea would be more understanding of single mothers, and the government help single mother get on their feet, things like this would happen less. I have never been angry at my mother for what she felt she needed to do. But I have wondered why Korean people think like that, and look down on women who are raising a child by themselves. As a single mother myself now, please know this was not a choice. I can not force anyone to take care of there own flesh and blood. Single mothers are “taboo” in most parts of the world, but in Korea I think its even worse. I do not care if I never marry, but I do know that if I do, the first thing he will know is that my daughter and I are 1. I know my mother loved me, but she could not take care of me. She was judged daily for having me, and cried nightly because she did not know what else to do. The people of Korea need to be more understanding and stop thinking they are better then a woman who made a mistake. We should support single mothers getting educations so they can support there families, even if the government refuse to help, and even if the people never respect them, at least less children will be mentally and physically harmed.

  6. Pingback: Returnees organizing Korea out of the Intercountry Adoption Industry | solidarity stories

Thank you for visiting my blog. I no longer have time to update this blog regularly, but I appreciate your comments, even though I cannot respond to all of them. All comments (except spam) have been allowed to go through unmoderated since June 16, 2014. Any comments you see prior to that date have been read and approved by me. Thanks again, and wishing you peace and blessings.

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