Reflections for Adoption Day

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Reflections for Adoption Day

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Singer Cho Young-nam once retold the first time he met his adopted daughter. “Late one day, I went to a child care center where my wife said she came across a girl she liked and asked me to go over and see for myself.” While he was walking down the corridor, he heard whispers from caregivers saying they wished Eun-ji would be chosen because otherwise she would be headed to the orphanage a few months later. As he was about to step into a room where he could choose a toddler, he suddenly heard a loud voice inside his head crying out how wrong this was. “I wasn’t on a shopping spree. I shouldn’t be checking out a girl as if she was a pretty shoe to buy!” With that thought, he returned to the center’s office and asked for a girl named Eun-ji. On that day 15 years ago, a 5-year-old girl found a home with the Cho family instead of the orphanage.

Today Korea commemorates Adoption Day. Up until the early 1990s, few were brave enough in this conservative society with its deep-rooted notions of family blood to open up about adopting a child. But as society has grown more accepting, it is no longer a hush-hush matter; about half of adoption cases last year were administered openly through agencies.

Still the country is dogged with the stigma of sending so many of its babies to homes overseas. Since 1958, when the country first started keeping records of overseas-bound adoptions, the total of Korean-born adoptees has numbered 160,000.

American Brooke Newmaster, while visiting the land of her birth, testified how adoptees live with the pain of having to time after time explain and convince others as well as themselves of their identity. Sweden-raised Tobias Hubinnet in his study on the connection between overseas adoption and Korean nationalism, chastised the country of their birth; the government not only saved huge sums in welfare costs but pocketed $4,000 to $7,000 in fees for each baby sent abroad. They feel they were abandoned by their motherland as well as their birth mothers.

What they ask of their birth country is not just encouragement to keep babies in Korean soil but to increase the support to unmarried single mothers. Almost all overseas adoptees were born to unwed mothers.

Author Jane Jeong Trenka, who wrote on trans-racial adoption experiences in “The Language of Blood,” taunted: “Korea is a country that bans exports of Jindo dogs. Is a child of an unwed mother less worthy than a dog?”

Ironically, support for Korea’s unwed mothers is coming from outside the country. Dr. Richard Boas, an American father of a girl adopted from Korea, has founded the Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network. “What is more precious to a newborn than a mother’s love and care?” he asks.

It is a question we all need to ask ourselves on today’s Adoption Day.

The writer is a deputy economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Lee Na-ree [windy@joongang.co.kr]
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