Monday, July 28, 2008

Hankyoreh News Article by Choi Won Hyung

(Translated from the original Korean by Hankyoreh News)

Hankyoreh News May 2, 2008

<!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->Choi Won Hyung

Three years ago, Kim Kyung Eun (27 years old, an assumed name) became pregnant unexpectedly out of marriage. Her mother was telling to Kim whether Kim could have an abortion surgery or possibly give up her baby for adoption. However, Kim claimed to her mother that I am going to raise my child. After hearing Kim, Kims mother turned her back on her daughter with saying then our relationship is over from now on. Kims babys biological father also had been gave no help to Kim and her baby. Friends suggested the abortion surgery or adoption with saying How could you raise your child by your own? After all, Kim gave a birth alone, and immediately all the trials that people predicted came close to her. The first trial was financial difficulty. As she couldnt go to work with child, so she didnt have any income and the expenses of hospital and living were running out her savings. As she didnt have place to stay, she stayed at various friends houses with the baby and had to eat instant noodle almost everyday. The second trial was lack of information. Kim had to do some research to figure out how to bathe and to feed a baby as she had no clue first time. For instance, Kim once made a mistake that she fed her child with diarrhea powder milk as it was relatively cheaper that normal powder milk. Kim told that it is most difficult fact that I have to do everything on my own. Added Dont you think it is more important fact that we, unwed mothers are also parent, not we accidentally gave a birth our children? Because of strong prejudice towards unwed moms, we abandoned by our own family, and not able to stand in our society

Since last year, Kim picked out a location in Ae-Ran Mother and Babys home, a group home for single parent families located in Hongjedong Seodaemungu, Seoul. This is a social facility for single mother and their child that supports services like residence, vocational training, and so on for one year period. Now, Kim goes to private culinary institute to achieve a chefs certificate. But Kim showed an unsatisfied feeling by saying. There are many unwed child-rearing mothers who wish to reside in this group home; I would need to live after 1 year period. I hope I could stay here about three years so that I can be prepared well to become a self-sufficient.

What she wants is to have a place like the group home in order to lean on until she would get a stable job and save some money to live with her child.

This January, Lee Su Kyung (22 years old, an assumed name) have a birth at Ae-Ran-Won. Lee actually has an experience of abortion when she was 20 years old. At that time, I took the abortion surgery for granted. However, Lee decided to give a birth when she found out her pregnancy last year, felt constantly sorry to the baby she did aborted two years ago. Even people that she knows suggested giving up her child for adoption though, she was not willing to do it. It imposed heavy burden to me as I am young, and there are certain things that I have to achieve. Also raising a child as single mother seems such a responsibility however, I couldnt give up my child with all those reasons. At this time, she is preparing to live with her child together. Becoming a scalp controller (hairdresser) is Lees goal at this point so that she goes to private beauty institution in order to achieve hair designer certificate first. During daytime when Lee studies at the institution, daycare center in the facility takes care of her child. Lee set her plan to first enter the group home to live with her child, and get a job and save her income for one year period. Lee said with smile I feel desolated as I dont know what future would be like but I am encouraged by looking my childs face.

Chose adoption because raising child is challenging

Jeong Na Ri ( 20 years old, an assumed name) gave a birth last March. At that time, she was 19 years old. She chose to give her baby for adoption as she has no courage to raise the baby. Jeong told, I had been also thought about bring up the baby by myself, but my future is uncertain and there is no way that my parent could support me and my child even though I let them know about all this. I concluded it is the best decision for the baby to be raised by a good adoptive parent as well as for me. She added My financial ability is such a problem, and I found it is very difficult to decide to deal with peoples judgments and prejudice towards to my baby who has no a daddy. Jeong also told that she is preparing to pass the qualification examination for graduation high school now as she want to be not shameful mother when her child might find a birth mother in the future. According to Jeong, For most of unwed mothers, either decision-raising children or giving up for adoption is not easy decision to make. Before unwed mothers make decision, they distinguish right and wrong many times, in terms of the circumstances they are at.

2. Government only support to unwed mother with 50,000 krw as the expense of raising child. Only three mothers out of ten I would raise my child.

Government, nongovernmental support situation.

Hankyoreh News

<!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->Choi Won Hyung

Richard Boas (59, physician) who live in Connecticut, USA, had adopted his daughter, Esther, in 1988. He wanted to know more about Esthers home land, so visited S. Korea in 2006. At that time, he was able to visit an aid facility for unwed mothers, and surprised by the fact that unwed mothers who want to raise their children but chose to give their children for adoption as there are lack of social support towards unwed mothers. Boas was funding International adoption for people until that time, but he has been worried to help for Korean unwed mothers to raise their children by themselves. He established (a fund at) Give2Asia foundation ( began to support to the aid facilities of unwed mothers in Korea.

Gradually choice of Korean unwed mothers is changing. Koreas adoption case in 2001 were total 4206 cases but it decreased (to) 2652 cases in 2007. Current survey to unwed mothers also shows unwed mothers responded as I, parent/family or birth father would raise my child has increased from 24.8% in 2006 to 32.5% in 2007. Unwed mothers who decide to become raise their children are increasing today.

Swim (given) the current tendency, Korean government amended from the Mother-Father-Child Act to Hanbumo support law (Single family support law). According to the law, it had changed the target of recipients that from the unwed mother aid facility to unwed child-rearing mother and child aid facility, and clarifying Korean governments support towards to child rearing. And it became legal basis of operating the group home for child-rearing unwed mother and child. This group home supports unwed mother can stay with her child for one year. Also an aid facility for unwed child-rearing father and child opened first time in Incheon in 2007.

Holt Childrens Service Inc. that has known for its support program of promoting adoption operates unwed mother group home since 2006, and would open unwed mother support center at Masan in this May. This center is entrusted by Kyongnam province. Hong Mi Kyung, director of PR department of Holt, told We would help unwed mothers to have various choices not only adoption, but also raising their children by themselves.

Nevertheless, substantial supports are still not enough. Government aid only 50,000 krw to single parent who raise under 8 years old children. For the residue, other supports of the expenses of vocational training are given only to single father and single mother who (officially) enter in aid facility. There is no statistics of single father and single mother as well. Han Sang Soon, director of Ae-Ran-Won, claimed that unwed mothers who are out of aid facilities are easy to fall in crisis situation. There is a call for structuring backup system for unwed mothers in community so that they also could access to the services like vocational training assistance.

Eliminating social prejudice towards single parent is another task that needs to be solved together with enlarging support system. Lee Mi Jeong, KWDI researcher, told There is social prejudice that pregnancy out of wedlock is bad incident not an accident in Korea. Because of the prejudice in our society, unwed mother became alienated form society and family, chose abortion or adoption. Social recognition should expand that raising our children is our responsibility.

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Interview with Richard Boas (USA) who supports Korean unwed mothers

Mr. Richard Boas clearly made his opinions and impressions about Korean unwed mothers and their children through documentary interview with .

  How did I come to support unwed Korean birthmothers?

In 1988, my wife and I adopted our daughter, Esther, who was born in Pusan. We already had two children, and were unable to conceive a third child. We decided to adopt from Korea, since we understood that children, especially girls, who were born to unmarried mothers there faced a difficult life.

Esther was three and a half months old when we adopted her. Esthers birthmother was a 24 year-old unmarried factory worker, who worked until the seventh month of her pregnancy. Her relationship with the birthfather was brief, and when she realized she was pregnant, did not know how to contact him. She did not tell her family of her pregnancy, and government aid was not available to her. With her savings depleted and without any other means of support, she made the difficult decision to give up her child.

While raising Esther, now 20, Katherine, 27, and Benjamin, 24, I was working as an ophthalmologist specializing in glaucoma, a disease which causes blind areas in the field of vision and, uncontrolled, leads to blindness. My work was hugely satisfying, yet after being in practice for many years, I wanted to take my life in a different direction.

In 2005, I became involved in international adoption in a different way, after learning that many local families could not adopt due to steep and rising costs. I was especially moved by their desire to adopt special needs children. Being truly grateful to Family and Childrens Agency in Connecticut and Social Welfare Society in Seoul, for bringing us our child, I wanted to be able to help other families do what we had done.

I began meeting with other adoptive parents in my area, and together we started The Adoption Foundation at Family and Childrens Agency. It was truly gratifying to sit on a committee which reviewed applications from families, and make grants that would allow these families to adopt. During my time with the Foundation, we aided about fifteen families.

As I had not yet been to Korea, and wanted to do everything I could to promote our work, I asked to join the staff from FCA on their trip to Korea in October 2006, at my expense.

The trip changed me. What I found out eventually led to a sharp change in the direction of my work.

I was not prepared for my reaction to holding infants in a nursery, meeting special needs children, and visiting sick children in the hospital. These children were orphans, relinquished by their unmarried mothers. However, I was deeply impressed upon meeting a dozen young women in a Social Welfare Society facility in Daegu. The women were approximately 18-24 years old, all were unmarried, all were pregnant, and every single one of these mothers had already agreed to give up her child. Esthers birthmother could have been one of these women, and Esther could have been one of these children.

I had been a strong supporter of international adoption. Yet these encounters affected me profoundly. I realized that I had been blind to the possible negative effects of adoption, especially international adoption, on birthmother and child. Is giving up ones child truly necessary? More importantly, isnt it the right of any loving, capable birthmother to bring up her child, if she chooses, not just in Korea, but anywhere in the world?

I returned asking How can I, as an adoptive parent and physician, help so that the best interests of unmarried Korean birthmothers and the children born to them are met? If a woman chooses to keep and raise her child, how can I help increase the likelihood that this will happen? Should birthmothers need to place their children for adoption, how may I further help them, and the facilities where these unwed mothers and their newborn children live? If Esther had been born last week, what would be the right thing to do?

I learned that over 2000 children are adopted from Korea each year, and another 2000 are adopted domestically. 70% of unmarried Korean birthmothers give up their children; the US figure is 2%. Thats a huge difference. I asked Why isnt Korea, the worlds 11th largest economy, helping its own? Shouldnt it be doing everything it can to minimize overseas adoption (and domestic adoption) by maximizing the chances that a woman can keep and raise her baby? Dont these brave women deserve all the help they can get?

Deeply moved, I abandoned the pro-international adoption foundation that I helped to start, and turned my attention to raising the visibility of the difficult situation of unmarried Korean birthmothers and their children, in the hope that Koreans would positively address the issue.

What do I think of the unwed mother situation in Korea? Evaluation as a foreigner. Comparison with US.

I see it as unfortunate, difficult, and very much needing attention, as a pressing womens and childrens rights issue.

If a woman keeps and raises her child, she and her child endure social stigma, alienation from her family and lack of government support. If a woman gives up her child to adoption (usually the case), she is faced with the guilt and shame that will stay with her for the rest of her life. Korean society and government only minimally address the situation. I love my daughter, and as grateful as I am that Esther came into my life, it pains me to see any woman give up her child because government and people are not willing to support her, just as Esthers birthmother was forced to give up Esther.

In the US and Scandinavian countries, among others, discrimination against unmarried mothers is virtually nonexistent, and social support systems are readily available.

Mira Lee, Director of Domestic Adoption Department, Social Welfare Society, points out that, rather than emulate other countries support systems, Koreans must focus on addressing the prejudice against unmarried mothers. I would agree, adding that the Korean people and government have a wonderful opportunity to do well by these mothers and their children, and support them in whatever way possible.

(Welfare Systems for Unmarried Mothers in Advanced Countries and Korea, SWS Bulletin 2006)

Support (by) Dr. Boas (through) Give2Asia

It has given me great meaning to support several organizations advocating for unwed and single mothers, and providing direct service, including Ae Ran Won, Korean Womens Workers Association, Korean Womens Assocations United and Hanbumo/Single Mothers Network. Grants have been made through San Francisco-based Give2Asia, which has researched grant proposals and followed up on reports from recipients.

What needs to be done for unwed Korean moms, to reduce the rate of ICA?

I believe several factors must be addressed here.

First, unwanted pregnancies need to be prevented in the first place. Korea needs to seriously address sex educationand societys bias against itof boys as well as girls. Many unwed mothers will have a second pregnancy, so that intervention/education after the first pregnancy is important.

Unmarried pregnant women need counseling and resources that will help them make the best decisions for themselves and their babies. They also need the time and freedom to make these important decisions. For those women who wish to keep and raise their babies (and increase the likelihood that they will keep their children), appropriate support needs to be available: Education, job training, babysitting, housing assistance, medical and education assistance, childrearing resources. Women, regardless of marital status or whether they have children, must be treated equally in the workplace. Frequently, if a woman tells a job interviewer she has a child, she will not be given the job. If she tells the interviewer she has no children, she is more likely to get the job.

The validity of unmarried women raising their children in Korea needs to be emphasized. Womens advocacy groups are already raising the visibility of this issue.

The number of homes (only 16 in all of Korea) for unwed mothers needs to be increased, through government funding, and ongoing resources need to be made available. In contrast, there are four large agencies involved in intercountry adoption. This is significant, in that there are many overseas families wishing to adopt, and agencies wishing to help them. This may be in the best interests of the adoptive families and the agencies themselves, but the focus needs to be on what is best for mother and child.

Recently, much attention has been focused on domestic adoption, as an alternative to intercountry adoption, with financial incentives for adopting couples. While domestic adoption is preferable to ICA in most cases, I would strongly argue that a mother raising her child is generally best for the child, mother and society, that this be encouraged, and support be provided.

In addressing the situation of unmarried mothers and their children, Korean families have the opportunity to maintain ties with their daughters and their children, for the ultimate benefit of all.

Korea has the worlds lowest birthrate, and the risk of a population decline is real. Efforts to deal with this situation by increasing the holding period for infants destined for ICA (5 months), and encouraging domestic adoption, do not address the cause of the problem, that of mothers giving up children. Simply, more mothers keeping children equals fewer adoptionsand fewer children leaving the country.

Anything I would like to tell the Korean government, media and Korean National Assembly?

These birthmothers and their children are Korean too, and these mothers love their children as much as any mother does, anywhere. The economic and social pricecompared to these mothers giving up their children, is relatively small. It is in the best interest of a developed society, such as Korea, that cares about its children, to support them in whatever way possible, and give them the prospect of a bright future. It is important for me to help make this issue more visible, and promote discussion, even debate, in the hope that it is positively and effectively addressed. However, though my daughter was born in Korea, and I care deeply about unwed mothers and their children, I am not Korean. This is clearly a matter for Korean society and government to pursue, and they have a wonderful opportunity to do so.


(English translation provided by Hankyoreh News)

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