We just received a comment on my blog about the role of international adoption in Korea and around the world. I didn’t want this viewpoint to be lost at the bottom of the 61 comments on a month-old blog, so I’m re-posting it here.
I speak as an adoptee, who lived in an orphanage in Korea for eight years before being adopted by a wonderful family in the US when I was fourteen. To all the adoptive parents, I salute all of you for providing loving homes to so many children that needed homes. I want all of you to know that despite all the criticisms on intercountry adoption (ICA) levied by adoptees and others, there are many many more times the number of adoptees that don’t have any problem with ICA, and that the voices of the few anti-adoption adoptees don’t represent all of us who are very grateful for having been adopted.
I think many adoptees are very naive in only looking at the issues of ICA from the point of cultural and racial separation, being uprooted from their birth country without their consent, and desiring that they were raised in Korea. What they don’t think about is the big question, “What would have been the alternatives?”
Here is a portion of my writing from an essay I wrote last year for the Korean Quarterly magazine titled “In Defense of Adoption.”
…So what would have been the alternatives for (now adult) adoptees if they were not adopted through ICA? Orphans growing up in Korea have historically faced incredible challenges as they are subject to strong social stigma.
Compared to ordinary children with families, orphans in Korea experience what I call “status discrimination.” I have heard and read about the experiences of racial discrimination as described by adoptees living in Europe or in the U.S. But this type of discrimination is nothing compared to the status discrimination that orphans have to endure. By status discrimination, I am referring the denial of opportunities for good education and good jobs that orphans experience, not only because they lack the financial and social support of a family, but additionally because the society discriminates against them simply because they are orphans.
In the old days, three to five percent of orphans were able to go to college. Although educational opportunities for orphans have increased in recent years, they still fall significantly below educational opportunities of ordinary Korean children with families. By contrast, approximately 70 percent of Korean adoptees in the U.S. and Europe receive a four-year college education or above.
The status discrimination of orphans does not end with limited educational opportunities. If a young man with an orphan background wishes to date and marry a woman with a family, often the woman’s parents reject the man even though the woman loves him. If two men (or women) of equal ability apply for the same job, and one grew up in an orphanage and the other in a normal family, the applicant who grew up in the orphanage usually loses out.
Although the social stigma against orphans has lessened greatly over the years, it still presents a big challenge for children growing up in orphanages. Not many orphans are adopted domestically in Korea, as they are mostly older, and Korean nationals tend to prefer adopting infants, in order to keep the adoptions secret. (By “secret,” I am referring to the practice of a prospective adoptive mother going through an elaborate deception to pretend to be pregnant and/or to plan a well-timed move to another part of the country, then presenting the adopted baby as a birth child at the appropriate moment.)
Orphans in Korea must leave the orphanages when they turn 18 years old. Often these orphans are emerging from the orphanage just out of high school, with very few marketable skills. Leaving the orphanages, these young adult orphans are usually given a onetime severance allowance of anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. But this meager allowance runs out very quickly.
With no financial support or family support available, going to college would be impossible. These young adults go through extreme hardship once they leave the orphanages. A few find ways to stay with friends and/or extended families, but not all of them are that fortunate. Most wind up working in low-paying jobs at which they work long hours. Some may become successful teachers, pastors, nurses, etc., but these types of successes are very few compared to others who haven’t fared so well. In many areas of their lives, adults with orphan backgrounds must be vigilant to keep their background a secret, for fear of status discrimination.
When I look at the educational accomplishments of some of the adoptees that are strongly against adoption, I have a hard time understanding how they could speak against the very system they have tremendously benefited from. Most of them have college degrees, some of them have Ph.D. degrees and some are college professors. Without being adopted overseas into an environment which supported them to that level of achievement, they most likely would not have received the education or the distinctions they now enjoy. By contrast, the orphans in Korea would die to have the same opportunities the adoptees have. Granted that one’s happiness is not determined by educational achievements; however, there can be no question that ICA has provided opportunities for many orphans that would not have been available had they remained in Korea….
I support the efforts by Korea to create an environment for more single mothers to raise their own children. People speak of providing funding so they can raise their children with no economic burden. Economic reason is a small part of the concern for birthmothers. The greater problem is their ability to handle social stigma and ostracism by her families and general public for having given birth out-of-wedlock. Most birthmothers choose to give up their children for this unfavorable social environment, not so much because they don’t have the economic means to raise their children. Because of these and other circumstances, there are far more birthmothers that choose to deliberately give up their children than those who choose to be bold and keep their children. I believe Korea is on its way to have more birhtmothers being able to raise their own children and we should definitely encourage this.
While I acknowledge that there is a need for advocacy groups for birthmothers and their rights, in so doing we should not violate the rights of children. The anti-adoption factions in Korea have used the cause of birthmothers’ rights to speak against ICA, as well as against domestic adoption. Because they claim that adoption causes the separation of a child from the birthmother, they use the phrases such as “Family Preservation over Adoption Promotion” to make their points known. However, in their zeal to put an end to adoption by advocating birthmothers’ rights, they have focused more on birthmothers, not on the rights of children.
I believe that, while birthmothers’ rights should be advocated, it is wrong to do so by trampling on children’s rights to their own homes and families. Birthmothers are adults who have voices, and they can make certain choices for themselves, whether good or bad. But the children have no voice. Many adoptees have spoken out to advocate for their own rights and the rights of birthmothers’, but very few have chosen to speak for the rights of children to have their own homes.
So to all adoptive parents, keep on doing what you are doing, and don’t let some voices of discontent discourage you in any way. Because you have so many more adoptees who are your friends.
~ Steve Morrison (I am happily married with five children, two of whom were adopted from Korea. I am a Senior Project Engineer at the Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles, California, and I am the founder of Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea (MPAK) and have a blog at mpakusa.blogspot.com.)
The whole of Steve Morrison’s thoughtful article Defense of Adoption can be found on Don Gordon Bell’s website Korean War Baby. You might also find Don’s story and views on adoption interesting. He was a mixed-race toddler adopted right after the war in 1956. He now lives in Korea and has some very interesting insight into what it means to be adopted.
Image credit: Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits