International adoption is neither saint nor devilI read an article recently in the KoreAm Journal titled Where is home? by Kai Ma. The subtitle of the article reads: “Once the largest supplier of international adoptees, South Korea, is at a crossroads, looking to end overseas adoption out of a sense of both shame and responsibility.” I thought this was one of the best and most well rounded articles I’ve read lately on the place of international adoption in a country’s child welfare system.  The article points to the growing anti-adoption sentiment in Korea, brought on in part by the Korean media’s focus on problems and complaints of some vocal adult adoptees.The author interviewed and quoted a number of adult Korean adoptees, and it is their insight that makes this article shine. Here are some quotes that I thought worth thinking about:

  • Discourse surrounding South Korea’s international adoption policy usually involves a triangular tug-of-war between lobbyists, adoption agencies and advocacy groups, but what lies at the center are children in need of homes. Despite the varying and contradicting perspectives, all agree that the welfare of the child must take precedence…
  • ‘Korea could absolutely close its doors, and it’s happened in other countries with the swipe of a pen.’
  • At the same time, there is an evident shift in the prevalence of international adoption — and not just in South Korea. …“In the past five years, there has been a changing tide about thinking critically about when international adoption is appropriate,” says McGinnis. “[Holly McGinnis works for the Donaldson Adoption Institute and was adopted from Korea.] “Many countries now are pulling back their practices, so what we’re seeing right now in Korea is indicative of broader changes.”
  • “Yet international adoption is an unfortunate necessity,” she adds. “In an ideal world, every child is loved and wanted, but that’s just not the reality. That’s not to say that kids that are adopted aren’t wanted, but what we don’t like to acknowledge is that adoption happens because something couldn’t happen.”

International adoption is often either vilified or sanctified in the press, when in reality it is neither devil nor saint. In an imperfect world, it is often the best solution, but that doesn’t excuse doing nothing to try to improve the underlying conditions which resulted in this being the best solution. Women and men conceiving children they are not able to raise is the root cause, and all efforts should be made to support and encourage people to make good reproductive choices. I want to live in a world where poverty is never the sole reason for relinquishing a child. Being too young to parent or wanting a child to have two parents are valid reasons for relinquishment in my book, regardless if the child is from Bulgaria or Boston.

The notion, however, of stopping international adoptions or impeding them unnecessarily through regulations, in order to assuage national pride or to try to force governmental action is absurd. It’s akin to starting work on the levees in the midst of a flood, while people are stranded on their rooftops. The levees need attention, but the rooftop folks need a lift right now. Surely, we can do both. One of the adult adoptees was quoted in the article as saying: “So what would be the only logical reason for closure of international adoption? When there are no more children to be sent abroad.” Amen!


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