Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dr. Boas' reflections on the August 2010 trip

What made this trip, my 9th, particularly rewarding, is that the issue of unwed moms and their children has become quite visible, and very much on the "radar screen." Forums such as the ones in Jeju and Gyeonggido--with active participation at both by unwed moms themselves--and government officials in attendance, were a wonderful demonstration of the active interest in the moms' situation, and ways of addressing it. I was so glad to hear the matter discussed at the recent IKAA Conference, which also included a joint presentation between an unwed mom and adoptee about their joint business venture--so that adoptees themselves are now more aware, and in a position themselves to address the issue.

The moms themselves are increasingly coming forward. I long ago lost count of the number of media interviews they have granted. May their numbers, voices and impact increase, in the cause of a socially just and truly democratic Korea. A recent "first," which we were so pleased to be an audience to, was a joint meeting between the newly-formed unwed moms' organization, Miss Mammamia, and Hanbumo Association. They have much common ground.

Not only is the matter of assistance for unwed moms very much an issue, the type of assistance is being increasingly discussed. Our belief--and that of the moms--is that these single-parent families are best supported in the community. Not only is this more cost-effective, it keeps moms and their children in the community, where they belong, and helps to decrease the stigma against them.

A group that I want to see become more involved is the Korean philanthropic community--corporations, foundations and individuals. Existing NGO's working for the moms, as well as a new one, formed by the moms themselves, need assistance. I am so heartened by the great interest shown by Korea Foundation for Women. This need is real, Korea itself is responsible for--and capable of--addressing the issue.

It was a pleasure and privilege to meet and speak with Professor David Smolin, a US legal scholar, now very much aware of problems of Korean adoption and Korean unwed moms. I welcome his continued interest in and help.

Since I began my work on behalf of Korean unwed moms, I have been saddened by the belief among Koreans that the mother alone is blamed for her pregnancy, and saddled with the responsibility for child-rearing and financial support of herself and her child. So many have been pressured--by families and by fathers-to-be--to get an abortion (96% among pregnancies of unwed women in Korea) or to give up her child to adoption, lest the reputation of the father or either family be ruined. This is unfair, unjust and discriminatory. Unwed fathers' responsibility is becoming increasingly discussed in Korea, and taken seriously, an important step. Koreans we spoke with "got it" when I quoted a US academic article which states that when men are held responsible for the children they father, birthrates go down.

We are delighted to assist Salvation Army/Duri Home in setting up a new Thrift Store/Coffee Shop in Seoul. Not only do we hope this will become a viable business (as existing stores are), but provide employment and valuable business experience for unwed moms. It was exciting to hear from the moms who will be working there. I look forward to my white chocolate mocha at the new store.

A big "thank you" to KUMSN staff for everything you do on behalf of social justice and progress for the moms and their children. I remain confident that Korea will solve this issue, and am proud we are playing a part.


mitja said...

I can only recommend Tammy Choo's movie, that was screened at IKAA Gathering: "Resilience" where the mother, working as a volunteer for younger unwed moms at salvation army meets her old son, returning from US to meet her in at television show to reunite parted mother and child.

sona um-mah said...

Dr. Boas - thank you for sharing these exciting observations of institutional and personal development. Out of curiosity, does the new thrift store/coffee shop represent the joint business venture between an unwed mom and adoptee? I'm very interested in learning more about this collaboration. Thank you.

Third Mom said...

Thank you, Dr. Boas, for all the work you and KUMSN do on behalf of the women of Korea. It's incredibly heartening to watch women stand up to discriminatory people, institutions, and practices. They will succeed, I know they will succeed.

Anonymous said...

Korean Focus in DC would love to reprint this article in our eBulletin. May we have permission to do so?

Rick Boas said...

To sona um-mah:

Thanks. It's so gratifying to see progress being made. Regarding the thrift store/coffee shop--no, not a venture of Little J Family; it's a project of Salvation Army Duri Home.

Rick Boas said...

To Third Mom:

Thank you. And more and more moms self-advocating will help make this a reality. It is a powerful tool for change.

Rick Boas said...

To Korean Focus:


Shannon said...

I'm glad there is an organization like this. I'd like to do something to help if possible. I am also a single mom, but not in Korea, in the US, so much easier. But my son's father was a Korean immigrant. He ran off and never saw the baby, and I couldn't find him until this year. He married someone else (Korean) and had a baby with her. And I learned that he died last year.

Rick Boas said...

To Shannon,

Thanks so much for your offer of help. Right now, the most important thing you can do is to make others aware of the situation that unwed Korean moms face, and their need for appropriate assistance. The government's current approach to helping them, based on the nation's low birthrate, is insufficient and unfair (for instance, it will not help a mom who has been discriminated against at work and fired to regain her job). This is very much a human rights issue.