Monthly Archives: February 2009

At hearing on adoption law, frustration and calls for change

By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, Feb. 26 (Yonhap) — Local experts and adoptees expressed frustration Thursday on South Korea’s antiquated adoption law they claim lacks child protection measures and keeps encouraging foreign adoption of its children, and urged the government to move quickly to change the situation.

Since the 1950s, South Korea has sent away the largest number of children for international adoption in the world, with over 150,000 Korean children ending up in 20 different Western countries, according to state data. Despite its lengthy history with adoption, the country has yet to ratify a 1993 Hague Convention on child protection because its adoption law, established in 1969, does not meet several preconditions. The accord has been signed by some 73 countries.

“It is an embarrassment that the country has still yet to ratify the convention,” said Kim Seung-kwon of the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, who participated in the public hearing Thursday. “It is time we really put our heads together on this issue.”

Aiming for a complete revamp of the adoption law by the end of this year, Seoul’s welfare ministry requested that a group of experts conduct research on the matter. The team, led by Prof. Huh Nam-soon of Hallym University, disclosed the results of its two-month effort at Thursday’s forum.

If the first half of Korea’s modern adoption history was about finding and providing permanent homes for war orphans and children abandoned out of destitution, Huh said, the second half should be about enhancing the adoption system so it can provide child welfare and protection services.

“However, responding to this change has been a challenge for Korea over the years,” the professor said. “There cannot be a law that satisfies all four parties, including the child, the adoptive parents, the biological parents and the adoption organization. What is important is that all parties consider what is best for everyone.”

In 1988, the year the summer Olympics were held in Seoul, Western journalists highlighted Korea’s adoption program as human trafficking and the country quickly became known internationally as an “exporter of orphans.”

Adoption had until then been treated almost as a state secret, in part due to criticisms leveled by North Korea that its southern neighbor was selling off its own children. A cultural emphasis on family bloodlines has also been a major barrier to increasing domestic adoption.

The government has in recent years made new efforts to make it easier for South Koreans to adopt, and as a result the number of domestic adoptions surpassed the number of international adoptions for the first time in 2007. The United Nations has recommended countries make maximum efforts to keep their children in the country.

Nevertheless, around 1,200 children continue to leave the country each year. Critics say South Korea still lacks vital child care services and support for single mothers.

Current law also falls short of providing adequate protection for adoptees, according to experts. Rules limiting access to adoption information have made it difficult for the government to assess whether adopted children are being raised in a healthy and safe environment. Such regulations also deny adoptees the right to find their biological parents when they become adults.

Among the 150,000 adopted Koreans worldwide, about 100,000 are living in the United States, with 45,000 in Europe and 5,000 spread throughout Canada, Australia and New Zealand, according to state data. Some return to their motherland after becoming adults in hopes of finding their birth mother, but face significant challenges in doing so.

Despite an overall agreement among all parties on Thursday on the need to promptly revise the law, a minor dispute broke out between adoptees and forum organizers due to the organizers’ failure to provide English translators.

“I asked twice for translation at the public hearing, but I was turned down,” said Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean adoptee to the United States and a member of Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK), a nonprofit organization aimed at healing the relationship between adoptees and Korean society. Trenka also complained that the adoptees were not able to voice their opinions on the issue and were excluded from the research.

“The adoptees were never meant to participate in this research — there was not even a box for them to check identifying themselves as regular concerned adoptees, and the survey was put out in Korean, the language least spoken by Korean adoptees,” she said. “We were not intended to participate in helping to form these laws and policies that are about our human rights.”

adoption law meeting

With thanks to SDH for taking most of these photos, and his extraordinary leadership in all this, and bisous to GPR and beautiful HY for being there in spirit.

Korean language news article by Hong Duck-hwa

Well said

This is from Linda Kwon who is a biracial Korean American who now works at Migrant Workers’ TV in Korea:

And your point about opening up Korea to other countries is true — it’s absolutely ludicrous. First of all, when you are still sending children to be adopted abroad, why would you think about adopting from other countries. Secondly, as this country has been so fundamentally racist to biracial children, much less children of an entirely different race/ethnicity, why on Earth would you even consider proposing such a thing. Especially in light of policies to bring in workers and then make them leave after three years expressly so they do not plant roots and stick around, why would you consider “importing” babies from these countries?? In the name of charity? Let’s start at home, shall we, there are more than enough problems to take care of here, more than enough citizens and residents that could use that support.



Hi friends!

I hope you’re convinced of the importance of participating in the meeting tomorrow and are committed to going.

Yes  — there will be translation to English provided by a GOAL volunteer. HOWEVER, this does not excuse the government from not making a “public hearing” truly public by providing translation for us. In fact, they REFUSED to provide translation when asked. What does the government’s REFUSAL TO PROVIDE TRANSLATION signify? What does that tell us?

So among other things, we are rallying around the issue that WE DESERVE ACCESS.They cannot expect us to understand Korean, especially on complex legal issues. So please come and bring a friend. If we don’t come out in force, we will look like we are not interested and therefore the government will continue to think that WE DON’T DESERVE ACCESS, and any demands in the future will not be taken seriously.

News coverage

1) Yonhap News will do an article in English and also release photos, either the same day or the next. They are sending the writer who, in my opinion, is our best writer in the English department. She is fully fluent and conversational in English and she can be approached and talked to in English comfortably. Her name is “Shin Hye-in.” As you know Yonhap is a world wire service — the news goes out to ALL the major news outlets in the world and in Korea.

2) ASK member Jenny Na is trying to get a Hankyoreh reporter to do a news story in Korean.

3) ASK member Tammy Chu (movie director) will bring her camera to film.

How can they tell we’re adoptees?

TRACK  will have name badges there for you to visually identify yourself as an adoptee or adoptee supporter and also provide poster board for you to make your own sign with some kind of slogan to your liking. ASK member Jenny Na will bring her markers for us. Suggestions



Daewon has also been invited to speak. (We are always grateful to Daewon for all the work he is doing — Daewon has truly committed his life to our community.) But that DOES NOT EXCUSE the government from EXCLUDING all the other adoptees — the adoptees from other organizations, the adoptees who are not part of organizations, and all of the adoptees (most of us) who do not speak Korean well. Most of all, it does not EXCUSE the government for not taking us seriously enough to include our voices in their “research.” It does not excuse the government for putting forth an entire report on what they’re thinking about doing with the law revisions that WE CANNOT READ.


There is some confusion about time. The email I was sent by the professor said the time is 10:00. However, Daewon said that he got a written invitation later that said 9:30. So I will be there at 9:30 just in case. If you can only come at 10, that’s OK. If you have to leave early, that’s OK. (It may run until 12:30) Just please come and be part of this.


Map is attached. I recommend taking a taxi from one of the subway stations and just showing the driver the map because it is a long walk and kind of hard to find. The driver might even have to ask someone for directions. But if you are walking, here are directions:

Subway: Seodaemun Exit 5. Take a right in front of the Kyeong Hyang Newspaper.
Walk southeast. Walk past chruch. Francisco Education will be on your left.

From City Hall Exit 1 or 12, walk with Deoksu Palace on your right. At the small alley take a right. Walk until you see the little roundabout. At the roundabout go as straight as possible (northeast). (If you still have the palace on your right, you should have taken the other road). The Francisco Education building will be on your right.

Pick-up points for those who are concerned about finding their way:

See you there, BRING A FRIEND, and please call me if you have any questions. 010-2614-0294




Nothing About Us Without Us!


Your presence is urgently needed. Please come.

Thursday Feb. 26 at 10 a.m.

Francisco Education Center in Seoul (near City Hall and Seodaemun)

As you may already know, the Ministry of Health Welfare and Family has requested research to be done about adoption. This research covers three areas: South Korean domestic adoption, South Korea’s special law on international adoption, and how South Korea would implement the Hague Convention.

The person that the government asked to do this research is an American-trained professor name Huh Nam-soon. She and the team that she has put together have no power to make the law, but only to make recommendations to the government. The government makes the law.

The timeline for this is that we are about mid-term. The Ministry of Health Welfare and Family is doing their own research, and the Ministry of Justice will do research on the Hague Convention from March-October.

At the end of the year, TRACK’s legal representatives (the Gonggam lawyers) who are helping the whole group of TRACK, ASK, GOAL and KoRoot will draft our own bill to introduce at the end of the year to parliament.There will probably be a draft bill around the end of the year. That means there is still time to fight on important issues that directly affect our lives.

Many adoptees may have seen the survey that was put out by this research group. However, the adoptees were never meant to participate in this research — there was not even a box for them to check identifying themselves as regular concerned adoptees, and the survey was put out in Korean — which is the language LEAST spoken by Korean adoptees.

GOAL translated the survey and collected results, but it appears that those results are not reflected in the research. Clearly the adoptees were not intended to participate in helping to form these laws and policies that are about our human rights.

In addition, I have asked the professor in charge of these meetings twice now for translation at the public hearing. She has turned TRACK down twice on this issue. She said they didn’t plan for it. (Sure, I can see that — they didn’t want adoptees to participate, clearly! So of course they didn’t plan for that. ) I fired off an email to TRACK’s parliamentarian this afternoon to complain and request that next time they prepare better. If Korea wants to be a pluralistic society and a democracy, they must prepare for these things.

Out of principle, because they are making laws about US, they should make the “public hearing” accessible. They can do this by providing translation in at least English, but also ideally French and possibly Dutch. They should send out notices in English. But all the notices have come out in Korean.  How can the adoptees participate in society, in laws about themselves, if they are purposely keeping us in the dark through the very same language barrier that they created?

So that we can understand, GOAL will provide translation, but this is the government’s job.  The government must understand that we are doing them a favor by picking up where they have been insufficient. Indeed the government has all the translation it wants right at its fingertips to make adoption papers when it comes to shipping children overseas to foreigners who speak English, French, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish — but when it comes to giving us two hours of live translation in Seoul — the bare minimum of what we would expect — they look at us like, “Huh?”

Let’s go together and demand our right to participate in laws that are about us. Let’s go and speak our broken Korean, our English, and our French, and demand that there be Nothing about us without us!!

Besides the language issue, these other issues are on the table for discussion. The research group is discussing their planned recommendations. I do get the feeling that some of these issues are not really open for discussion and they are already decided, but we have to put our bodies in those chairs and open things up for a real debate again.


1. Group recommends opening Korea to  the international adoption of children from Africa and other parts of Asia.

2. The length of time a mother has before she can legally a) relinquish a child and b) take the child back.

3.  Group recommends expanding the definition of who is considered “adoptable” to make adoptions easier.

4. Qualifications of prospective adoptive parents.

5. The use of the court in performing adoptions and breaking adoptions.

6. Open records for international adoptees whose parents agree to reveal identity.

7. Child’s right to consent to his/her own adoption to be dropped form 15 years to 10 years.

8. The system used to report/give permission to adoptions – how the child is registered in either adoption agency office or through the court. This is an issue about the right to identity for domestic adoptees.

9. The role of the Central Authority if Korea ratifies the Hague Convention. What authority will it have over the agencies? What will it do for the adoptees?

Your presence is very, very necessary. We are at a watershed time.  This is your chance to participate. If you need to skip class, then skip class. If  you need to take a couple of hours off work, do it. You cannot expect to complain about this stuff later if you don’t participate now! YOUR human rights are at stake. The rights of your friends who are searching are at stake. Be involved. Don’t let the Korean government get away with negligence again and again.  Don’t let them continue to trample on you because you’re too busy to make them stop it! Make time for things that are important.

Together we can do it!! We can change Korean society!

See you there.

Busy week

Monday Feb 23 11-1 pm: Korean class

2-5 pm – Midterm meeting with Prof Huh Nam Soon on law revisions. Get turned down for translation second time.

9 pm – ordered fried rice from Chinese delivery

Tuesday Feb 24 6 am – dramatic and violent case of food poisoning that woke me up just in time for morning meeting.

7:30 am – meeting with Dr. Boas, Cheryl Mitchell, Ellen Funari, and the usual suspects including our Gonggam lawyers at KoRoot to talk  about upcoming events  including Susanne Brink’s funeral and law revision

11:00-2:00 resting, call friends and complain I’m sick. Thank you DH and White Ben for listening to my whining.

2:00-4:30- TRACK suit on, sent email to parliamentarian’s assistant on interpretation issue; organized self by writing this.

5 pm – 1 am – work at desk job, ignored pain, felt feeling of dread while editing North Korea story.


11-1 Korean class.

2:00 – lecture by Cheryl Mitchell at Korean Women’s Development Institute


5-1 Work.

Thursday 10 AM public hearing at 10:00 on law revisions

lunch with Tammy and Woori chip folks who are putting on their TRACK suits.

afternoon: lecture by Cheryl Mitchell at Community Chest in Gwanghwamun for Korean Unwed Mothers support Network.

evening: work

Friday: 11 am class, evening radio show to talk about TRACK

This is really important

The first public hearing on revision to Korea’s adoption law is Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Fransisco Education Center in Seoul. I would recommend taking a taxi as it is a bit hard to find. I think it is easiest way is to come by City Hall. That way the taxi driver can take a right next to the palace if you are going south. Here’s a link so you can print out a map.

THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. This is history-making time. They are talking about three things:

1. Ratifying the Hague Convention

2. Domestic adoption law

3. Korea’s “special” adoption law that allows international adoptions.

What is at stake is how the Central Authority will look/operate under the Hague convention. What kind of rights to records will adoptees have? What kind of authority will the CA have over the agencies? That sort of thing. It sounds like what they are thinking now is that adoptees can know their original identity if the parents allow it. And if not, you would have to go to court (and fight with whom?) So I really don’t know how this is different from what is going on now, unless the records will be taken away from the agencies and put into the central authority for safekeeping. We need to go as a group and get clarity on that.

A couple of issues are really worrying to me. One is that they are thinking that they will legally allow people to secretly adopt, meaning the adoptee will never know s/he is adopted because on the family register there will be no trace of the adoption. It will look as if the child was born to that family. So this is a big problem about right to identity for the domestic adoptees. Right now that sort of thing is illegal — but for some reason they think that domestic adoption will rise if they obliterate the rights of domestic adoptees. Don’t you think that the solutino is to make more public awareness (or keep children with their mothers or in kinship care) instead of erasing their identities? Damn, I have never sat so long in a meeting where people were trying to figure out how is the best way to take children from mothers instead of keep them with them. Perhaps I was not understanding everything, but it’s not like the government or this panel thought that adoptee opinion was important enough to make anything happen in a language other than Korean anway.

Another big concern is that — believe me, this really is in the book and they really said this — they want to adopt kids from Africa. Because Korea is “globalized.” Wow. Wow. I mean, ponder that shit.

So I attended the meeting today which was the mid-term meeting of this group of people who are making recommendations to to Health Welfare and “Family” Ministry. The way I got to come in is I asked Daewon to get me invited. Thanks Daewon! Anyway, from the adoptee community it was just me and Kim Dae-won and Rev. Kim. I had a big problem getting time to speak and finally a social worker sort of intervened for me and let me speak.

One of the things I asked about is translation. I had emailed the “responsible person” in Korean before about getting translation for the adoptees. This is a very basic fundamental democratic right — if you are the people they are making laws about, you should be able to understand what they’re talkinga bout. Well, the “responsible person” said NO the government is not going to provide translation. I asked her again today in person in English. The answer was still NO — not going to do it, but go ahead and bring your own. But the PRINCIPLE of it is what is at stake. They cannot pour all those resources into translation to get our asses adopted and then expect that when we come back we are just going to sit and watch silently and happily while they make more laws about adoption, at the center of which is US. The Americans had a revolution about “No Taxation Without Representation” and this is the same thing. The survey that went out was translated by GOAL – there was never any intention on the part of these folks to allow the adoptees to participate. This is like a bunch of men making laws about women and forgetting to invite any women to the meeting.DUMB.

I’m going to see our people — KoRoot, ASK, GOAL — tomorrow morning bright and early (Who needs sleep!?) with Dr. Boas and Co., and then I’ll post more on an action plan tomorrow. We need to go and represent. We need to show up in our adopted bodies and just use our eyes to hold people accountable. “We are watching you” and “We want to participate democratically” is the message. “Treat us like people with minds and opinions about our own welfare.”

Anyway, if you think of yourself as political about adoption in the very least, I hope you’ll come to the public hearing. Whether we can understand everything or not, we need to show up and fill chairs and let them know we want to participate. If not for yourself, please come for the domestic adoptees. They have a very long uphill battle too, which is about to get longer and steeper, and perhaps we can help them out a little. And come for those African kids!! I mean, can you imagine what THAT would be like to grow up as an African adopted kid in Korea!?  I would guess like a million times worse than growing up as an adopted Korean kid in Minnesota. So please please clear that calendar and come. If this isn’t important, I don’t know what is. If you never got moving for anything else ever, move for this one. This is about YOUR HUMAN RIGHTS.

More later.

south park – canción de la resistance

Have a laugh, GPR!