Whether some strategic legislation would make the way easier for the hundreds of Korean adoptees who return to their birth country to live and work, or the thousands who visit there annually, was the topic of a meeting at the University of Minnesota of nine South Korean legislators with representatives of three Minnesota organizations of adult Korean adoptees.
The legislators are members of the Grand National Party, one of South Korea’s more conservative parties, sent as a delegation to observe the Republican National Convention, held in St. Paul the first weekend of September.
The group discussed the various issues faced by returning adoptees, including lack of South Korean government funding for adult adoptee groups organized in Korea and the need for subsidized Korean language learning for adoptees. There was also discussion of conditions that perpetuate the continued need for international adoption, such as failure to enforce paternity laws that would require birth fathers to support birth mothers, and a lack of publicly-funded sex education for youth.
Richard Lee, a U of M psychology professor researching international adoptee mental health, gave some history and statistics on Korean adoption in Minnesota. Lee said adoption from Korea has a 55-year history, and in Minnesota there were funding/aid links between the U of M and Seoul National University after the Korean War, from which emerged the links that forged the international adoption relationship between Minnesota and Korea.
While the number of international adoptions has increased 300 percent in the last 20 years across all countries participating in it, the number of Korean children has been reduced over time. Adoptions from Guatemala, Ukraine and Kazakhstan have increased over the past few years, he said, while adoptions from Korea dropped after 1995.
Lee said that in the ‘50s, 80 to 85 percent of Korean children placed for adoption were biracial. By the ‘60s and ‘70s, adoption was associated mainly with poverty. However, in ‘80s, the number of adoptions spiked even as Korea’s economy was becoming stronger. Lee cited what he said were four primary reasons for the rise in Korean adoptions: The rise in premarital sex; lack of accountability of birth fathers; lack of sex education in school systems; and a lack of a social welfare to support single mothers.
All together there have been over 110,000 adoptions of Koreans to the U.S., and Korean adoptees comprise about eight percent of the Korean American population as a whole, Lee said. In Minnesota, it has been estimated that more than 50 percent of the Korean American population are adoptees.
Lisa Medici, president and Lisa Ellingson, vice-president of Minnesota’s AK Connection also presented on the services and social opportunities for adopted Koreans in Minnesota provided by their group. They discussed the interaction of various groups of adopted Koreans within the Twin Cities, and the cooperation of groups across countries through the International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA). Representatives of IKAA will represent Korean adoptees at the Hague Convention on International Adoption, which will meet for the next time in 2009, Ellingson said.
Generally, Ellingson reported, many Korean adoptees are interested in returning to Korea, to find their birth family, or to visit, live or work. Korean adoptees also want to organize and network to advance the global community of international adoptees.
Julayne Lee of the advocacy group Adoptee Solidarity Korea (ASK), presented policy recommendations for international adoption. Lee said her recommendations “do not represent any single group, nor does any one group endorse all of the recommendations.”
Lee said her group is one of three groups of Korean adoptees which have formed in Korea. The other two are: Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK), established in 2007 and concerned with researching and documenting the history of Korean adoption; and the Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link (GOA’L) established in 1998, which provides post-adoption services for adopted Koreans who visit, live and work in Korea. ASK works on addressing issues of intercountry adoption in Korea, she said.
Lee said that GOA’L has launched a campaign for dual citizenship, which includes a petition-signing project, and continued discussions with the Ministry of Justice. South Korea requires mandatory military duty for men; the dual citizenship campaign is also asking that adoptees be exempt from that requirement, she said. The TRACK organization will be documenting how Korean adoption is accounted for in history, including history books and at appropriate public places such as the Korean War Memorial.
ASK is interested in getting adoptees better access to Korean language scholarships in Korea, and for increased funding for returning, and for organizations that offer post-adoption services, such as GOA’L or KoRoot.
ASK is also pushing South Korea to ratify the Hague Convention on International Adoption, which standardizes some practices, and encourages accountability and ethical behavior by parties engaged in intercountry adoption. The U.S. ratified it in 2007, she said, as have many other countries involved in international adoption.
Making mandatory the teaching of sex education in schools, enforcing paternity laws and outlawing discrimination against children of single mothers are other issues ASK is pursuing in Korea, she said.
Ami Nafzger, a Minnesota Korean adoptee who founded GOA’L and lived in Korea for seven years, said it was very difficult to establish the organization. “It took four years just to apply and be registered as an organization,” she said.
They finally met the regulations by asking four native Koreans to be on their board. After it was a registered NGO, it took another 18 months before they got even the minimal funding NGOs qualify for. In the future, when other adoptee organizations, like TRACK and ASK, apply for NGO status, “I would like it to be easier for them,” she said.
Nafzger said another organization, the International Korean Adoptee Services (InKAS), was established after GOA’L. It receives 80 percent of the funding distributed to adult Korean adoptee organizations because it was established by a native Korean person. “I would also ask for funding to be distributed more fairly,” she said.
Assembly Member Jae Oh Lee, former floor leader of the GNP, who is now a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University, said the delegation would bring back a record of the group’s recommendations to Korea, and use them in formulating policy to address issues related to adoptees’ needs in Korea.
Assembly Member Jin Park, Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Reunification Committee, said he has had some exposure to Korean adoptee issues, but did not realize that over 10 percent of U.S. Korean adoptees have been adopted to Minnesota. Park said that South Korea still must take further steps to open itself to the outside, including to foreign countries, particularly the countries where Korean adoptees live.
Legislation and civic action are both needed to address the issues the Minnesotans outlined, he said. This may include ratifying the Hague Convention. Park also said that the society must make greater efforts to strengthen policies in favor of single mothers and children, so that they will not be left out of the social safety net.
Both parties agreed that further dialogue is necessary to clarify the issues and suggest the best ways to support policy in favor of returning adult adoptees in Korea.
Reprinted with permission from Korean Quarterly Fall 2008 edition. Korean Quarterly is an volunteer non-profit newspaper of the Korean American community of the Twin Cities and Upper Midwest. Subscription and advertising information is available on the KQ website at: www.koreanquarterly.org. Contributions are tax-deductible. Write to us at: email@example.com