Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seoul February 2010 take 3

Days become like weeks and months, we meet so many wonderful people, in various organizations, concerned about moms, or hearing about unwed moms for the first time. It is amazing how much can be done in one day!

Continuing the saga from yesterday, some of the further highlights of our trip include.... we met with a team manager from one of the Seoul City Single Parent centers. They have a team that focuses in particular on supporting unwed moms. The center currently has about 30 unwed moms that come regularly to programs and for counseling and all and many more who come now and again. The center offers counseling, self help groups, some vocational training, cultural programs, and works hard to support moms self esteem. This program is less then a year old, and it is wonderful to see how quickly moms learn about this resource and get involved.

We visited the Anti Corruption and Civil Rights Commission. The division we visited investigates complaints under the ombudsman program, in social welfare and labor. They received complaints about adoption related issues, did a thorough investigation and published a strong set of recommendations relating to adoption but also support for unwed moms in November, 2009. We wanted to understand more about their work, and how they got interested in the issue. Their work is to follow up and investigate complaints relating to government actions and civil rights specifically in the fields of social welfare and labor. We had a good exchange of views and information with them, and they affirmed that if unwed moms have complaints about violations of their civil rights relating to social support and work, they would be happy to receive complaints. It is good to know there is such a strong recourse for moms and really for all Koreans.

One of the major highlights of this trip is the forum regarding social support for unwed moms, hosted by the Korean Women's Development Institute or KWDI. Papers were presented on the incomplete birth statistics in Korea which make it hard to know how many unwed moms there are; the painful impact for mothers of relinquishing a child for adoption; the experience of unwed moms who had to struggle to get their babies back from adoption agencies; and the results of research on the needs of unwed moms in Korea. After the papers were presented, there was a response from discussants, and then a general question and answer period. The papers and discussants came from KWDI, government, academia, journalism, NGO and unwed mothers themselves. The paper presented by an unwed mom about their struggles with adoption agencies was very well received. There were moms and their children in the audience as well. Everyone felt it was a great success, that it was the first time a number of important issues were addressed in such a serious forum. It was the first time one of the unwed moms spoke at this kind of forum as well. Many people remarked that even two years ago, this kind of forum could not take place. It is hard to describe how wonderful it was to be talking about unwed moms WITH unwed moms on the panel and in the audience. It is no longer talking about people when they are not there. It was a truly moving experience and rich food for thought in the presentations as well.

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