Can Korea shed image of
The Korea Times, 5th
tougher regulations expected to bring drastic change to adoptions
By Lee Hyo-sik
South Korea has a notorious reputation of an “orphan exporter” over
the years as thousands of abandoned children here have been adopted by
foreigners, mostly Americans and Europeans.
In a bid to polish its tarnished status abroad and prevent possible
child abuse, the Korean government has been encouraging domestic
adoptions by providing foster parents with financial subsidies and other
incentives. Since 2007, the number of domestic adoptions has exceeded
that of overseas ones — but only as the government made regulations
for the latter tougher.
Experts say the country still has a long way to go until all of its
abandoned children find a new family and receive adequate childcare,
stressing that kinship-conscious Koreans should be more open to raising
the children of others.
They also say the recent government move to oblige those seeking to
adopt Korean kids to obtain prior approval from courts will not dampen
domestic adoption, noting the measure only targets ones administered
between individuals under the civil law, which could expose adopted
children to potential abuse.
They stress adoptions through state-certified agencies are safe and will
continue to increase.
According to the Korea Central Adoption Resources (KCAR), affiliated
with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the number of orphans adopted
at home came to 1,388 in 2007, exceeding 1,264 cases of overseas
adoption for the first time. In 2009, a total of 1,314 kids were adopted
by Koreans, compared to 1,125 by foreigners.
These numbers reflect children adopted at home and overseas only through
22 state-certified adoption agencies. In reality, hundreds of children
are adopted through deals made by birthparents and foster parents each
year under the civil law, with many more illegally sent abroad.
“It seemed almost impossible in the past to see more Korean kids
adopted at home than overseas. But in 2007, the number of domestic
adoption surpassed that of overseas adoption for the first time in the
nation’s history. If the current trend continues, local adoptions will
outpace those by foreigners by a larger margin in the future,” KCAR
Chairman Yi Bae-keun told The Korea Times.
He attributed a rise in the number of domestic adoptions to the expanded
state financial incentives, including the provision of a 100,000 won
allowance per adopted child, and a growing number of infertile parents.
Yi then stressed the importance of local adoptions to removing Korea’s
image as an orphan exporter.
Construction of database
“But still a large number of children find a new home in foreign
countries. Many of them are physically and mentally-handicapped children
because it is hard to find foster parents for them in Korea. Besides,
many Koreans are still reluctant to raise children of others, due to
Confucian values regarding blood ties,” the chairman said.
When asked about whether the recent government move to strengthen the
screening of foster parents will negatively affect adoption, Yi said it
will not dampen domestic adoptions through official channels because
they are in accordance with a Special Act on Adoption.
“But it will likely bring about a drastic change to adoptions carried
out among individuals. Under the civil law, birthparents can hand over
custody of their children to other adults. But many such cases ended up
exposing adopted kids to abuse. I think the government seeks to rein in
In September, the Ministry of Justice unveiled a plan to revise the
civil law concerning the adoption and other related matters. It plans to
finalize the revision within the first half of 2011 and submit it to the
National Assembly for approval. Among others, a mandatory screening
system will be introduced to check whether individuals looking to foster
children are fit to do so or not.
Those seeking to adopt children will be required to gain prior approval
from the court.
Currently, adults seeking to adopt children here only need to obtain a
written approval from either the biological parents or grandparents.
Children growing up in orphanages can be adopted without consent. This
has made adopted kids vulnerable to potential physical and psychological
Yi projected that the number of domestic adoptions will continue to
increase in the future, while the number of children sent to foreign
countries will show a downward curve. “With low birthrates and other
social changes in Korea, adoptions will be more popular among
The chairman said KCAR will play a greater role in bolostering domestic
adoptions by carrying out a range of promotion campaigns and changing
Koreans’ perception toward adopting somebody else’s children and
raising them as their own.
“We will also try to build up a comprehensive database containing
information on children adopted by foreigners and their birthparents. A
total of 160,000 Koreans have been adopted and raised by foreign foster
families over the past 50 years. A large number of children born here
and raised by foreigners are coming back to find their birthparents. We
would like to be a great help to them in finding their biological
roots,” Yi said.
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