It takes a village to raise kidsThere are more than 15,900 children under the care of 281 orphanages across Korea. Last year, 239 babies were abandoned and placed in facilities in Seoul alone. The increasing number of abandoned children and the difficult lives they face are raising awareness of children in foster care.
One part of Eunpyeong District in Seoul is home to 632 children in care of the state. The area is the location of a children’s home run by a Catholic church, which has an elementary school where all of the students are orphans. They suffer cultural and identity crises when they attend middle schools with children who are not orphans. They have no choice but to go through a difficult physical and psychological stage of their lives without proper care, and some stray into the wrong direction. They must leave their homes at the age of 19. They are given 5 million won ($4,739) for support, but even with that help they can’t find affordable homes for themselves in Seoul. Few dream of pursuing higher education. They seek jobs, but often fail because of their background.
Orphans rarely get attention from society. Politicians and government officials have little or no interest in helping children since they can’t vote. They have not only been abandoned by their natural parents, but by their country.
Society cannot take the place of a parent. But with adequate care and support, the children can grow up with hope. First, the government should fix societal problems that lead to children being abandoned. Unmarried couples often send babies to facilities because of the revised adoption law, which requires natural parents to leave birth records when they put children up for adoption. The support system should be enhanced when children are inevitably separated from their parents because of incarceration, illness or illegal immigration. Authorities must find ways for children to live under the care of their natural parents or legal guardians.
Community services and counseling should help children cope with their teenage years. They must be filled with a sense of security and pride. When they turn 19, they must be able to start their adult lives with the support of education and vocational training. The government and politicians must come up with legal and welfare services as well as vocational training so that the children can grow up as valued members of society.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 7, Page 30