[Viewpoint] A new era for adoptionOn June 29, the National Assembly revised the law governing international adoptions and some domestic adoptions, giving adoptees the right to access their adoption information and showing its commitment to family preservation as the best way to protect children’s rights.
This shift towards family preservation is shown by the name change of the standing law from “The Special Act Relating to the Promotion and Procedure of Adoption” to “The Special Act Relating to Adoption.” The bill marks the end of an era in which adoption was equated with the best interests of a child versus empowering the child’s family of origin.
Bill #1812414 was sponsored by the government and approved with 188 yeas, zero nays and four abstentions after passing constitutional, legislative and committee review. This process of law reform was first put into play in 2008 when the Ministry of Health and Welfare commissioned an exploratory advisory group of adoption agency workers, social workers and academics to begin looking into revising the standing law on adoption as a preparatory step towards ratifying the Hague Adoption Convention. The problem with this initial government-appointed group was that it failed to consult single parents, birth family members and adoptees - the very persons who have been directly affected by the standing law.
In light of this, children’s rights advocates, women’s organizations, adoptees, researchers and adoptee organizations mobilized to gather testimony and attend public hearings held by the Korean government that began in January 2009. Together with attorneys So Rami and Hwang Pillkyu of Gong-gam Korean Public Interest Lawyers’ Group and under the sponsorship of Democratic Party Representative Choi Young-hee, the Adoption Reform Coalition began drafting the best concurrent law reform bill possible. At the time of the passage of the law, the coalition included the Dandelions birth parents’ group, the Korean Unwed Mothers and Families Association (KUMFA), KoRoot, Adoptee Solidarity Korea (ASK) and Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK).The signing of the bill into law will affect both foreign and domestic adoptions with the purpose of encouraging original family preservation. Whereas unwed mothers were previously encouraged to sign MOUs relinquishing parental rights while their babies were still in the womb, one week must now pass after birth before an adoption agreement is signed. Whereas counseling for unwed mothers primarily consisted of information about adoption, the bill mandates sufficient counseling and information on child-rearing for expectant birth parents. In addition, children may be adopted overseas only after no home can be found within Korea, and adopters are required to come to Korea unless special circumstances are recognized by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
The bill that passed establishes a legal basis to help bring Korea up to international standards as per the Hague Adoption Convention. In addition to having adoptions go through the courts, there will be a new central information authority established with the intention to protect adoptees’ human right to identity and medical information. The chair will be appointed by the president of Korea and reviewed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and a governing board consisting of adoptees.
An integrated database will be established so adoptees can apply to find their birth families. In the case of a birth parent’s death or unobtainable consent for inevitable reasons, or in the case that the adoptee needs information for purposes of medical treatment, the information can be released without birth parent permission.
It is the hope of the coalition that under these new legal protections, adoptees will no longer be subjected to unfair and erratic treatment during birth information search.
The coalition is glad to see lawmakers and staff in the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Justice working on this issue. Although the law has changed, the interpretation and implementation of the law at the practice and policy level must be made by many other bodies, including the Office of the President, the envisioned central adoption authority, relevant ministries and adoption agencies. In this regard, it is imperative that these bodies remain open to ongoing recommendations from the affected parties in order to ensure that the law is executed.
Although there is still much work to do in order to fully realize children’s rights and women’s rights in Korea, the government should be praised for making these meaningful steps in the right direction.
*The writers are members of the Adoption Reform Coalition: Jane Jeong Trenka, TRACK president; Tammy Ko Robinson, professor, Hanyang University; and Kim Stoker, ASK representative.