In Korea, Adoptees Fight To Change Culture That Sent Them Overseas

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2014-09-09 19:53Z by Steven

In Korea, Adoptees Fight To Change Culture That Sent Them Overseas

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio

Steve Haruch

In the Gwanak-gu neighborhood of Seoul, there is a box.

Attached to the side of a building, the box resembles a book drop at a public library, only larger, and when nights are cold, the interior is heated. The Korean lettering on its front represents a phoneticized rendering of the English words “baby box.” It was installed by Pastor Lee Jon-rak to accept abandoned infants. When its door opens, an alarm sounds, alerting staff to the presence of a new orphan.

The box, and the anonymity it provides, has become a central symbol in a pitched debate over Korean adoption policy. Two years ago last month, South Korea’s Special Adoption Law was amended to add accountability and oversight to the adoption process. The new law requires mothers to wait seven days before relinquishing a child, to get approval from a family court, and to register the birth with the government. The SAL also officially enshrines a new attitude toward adoption: “The Government shall endeavor to reduce the number of Korean children adopted abroad,” the law states, “as part of its duties and responsibilities to protect children.”

In the years after the Korean War, more than 160,000 Korean children — the population of a midsize American city — were sent to adoptive homes in the West. What began as a way to quietly remove mixed-race children who had been fathered by American servicemen soon gained momentum as children crowded the country’s orphanages amid grinding postwar poverty. Between 1980 and 1989 alone, more than 65,000 Korean children were sent overseas.

For the first time in South Korean history, the country’s adoption law has been rewritten by some of the very people who have lived its consequences. A law alone can’t undo deeply held cultural beliefs, and even among adoptees, opinion is divided over how well the SAL’s effects match its aims. The question of how to reckon with this fraught legacy remains unsettled and raw…

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