Recommendations for Modernization of International Adoption Policy in Korea: Governance, Diplomacy, and Humanity

April 21, 2023

Recommendations for Modernization of International Adoption Policy in Korea: Governance, Diplomacy, and Humanity

As written for the National Assembly of Korea Korean Adoptees Diaspora Art & Culture Forum April 21, 2023

From award-winning movies and television shows like Parasite and Squid Game, to music from internationally recognized artists like BTS and Blackpink, Korea makes the messages that move the world. People from around the globe have come to love the culture that we so proudly claim as our own. Korean achievement can be found in pop-culture, sports, business, science, literature, and technology. If I know anything about the 51.74 million people who call it home, there is much more creativity and innovation to be shared as we look towards the future.

History has shown us that the democratic freedoms we enjoy today were built upon both the triumphs and the pains of the past. We must take steps to amend the wrongs of yesterday, as we celebrate these present moments of joy. We must constantly strive to be the Republic of Korea that the global community believes us to be – in governance, diplomacy, and most importantly, in our humanity.

First, we must honor our diplomatic commitments. As a member of the United Nations, Korea has demonstrated its belief that every child is deserving of the dignity and of equal and inalienable rights belonging to of all members of our human family, as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, we cannot live by intent alone. We must take practical action to deliver on our promises.

Korea must honor its commitments to the global community by ratifying the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Diplomacy is difficult, but Korea has already proven that we can achieve difficult things. In the twenty-eight years since the Convention went into force, Korea has become a member of the OECD and joined the World Trade Organization. Our government has ratified the European Union – South Korea Free Trade Agreement, United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, China – South Korea Free Trade Agreement, the Australia – Korea Free Trade Agreement, and maintained Most Favored Nation (MFN) Status. Has the Republic of Korea delayed ratification of the Convention on Intercountry Adoption because it is difficult or because it is not a priority?

By responding to the Joint Statement on Illegal Intercountry Adoptions and ratifying the Hague Convention, South Korea can strengthen diplomatic relationships and create a stronger foundation for permanent peace between nations.

The current Special Adoption Act and its proposed revisions delegate the responsibility of adoption to The Ministry of Health and Welfare. Though this role is logical when it comes to domestic adoption, I would like Members of the Assembly to consider the increased role of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the international adoption process. The Special Adoption Act, Article 9 states that, “a person who intends to become an adoptive parent… must be qualified to become an adoptive parent under the law of the home country.” It is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that strengthens diplomacy and cooperation of national interests abroad. In addition, should any issues arise when a Korean citizen is in transit or has already physically reached a foreign destination, it is The Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is responsible for the protection of Korean nationals – whether adopted or not.

Based on a 2019 study by Intercountry Adoptee Voices, the adoption program in South Korea is estimated to have generated revenue totals of $3.1 billion USD, averaging $157 million USD a year between 1970-1990. With such considerable finances at stake, it is critical that The Ministry of Economy and Finance serves as a checkpoint for financial policy development and oversight in relation to international adoptions. The Ministry is firm when it comes to reporting of tax revenues and enforcement of financial regulations across every industry within its territory. Adoption should be no exception.

Though our focus today is in addressing the policies that affect legal adoptions, we must also be aware that adoption can also serve as a connecting point between the legitimate and illicit markets. On one side of the connection, we hear the stories of poor, orphaned adoptees who find fairy tale endings with adoptive families abroad. On the other side, is a world where kidnapping, human, identity laundering, and fraud are common practice.

According to a Human Rights First study, human trafficking earns global profits of roughly ₩ 191,559 trillion each year. Those who do not respect human dignity or the laws that allow it to flourish, are able to easily convert illegal assets into legal ones (and vice versa) through the active trading of children. Without consistent and enforceable policies to prevent such activities, the Republic of Korea is at diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian risk.

It is within the scope of MOEF responsibility to regulate of adoption-related financial records, as well as investigate and enforce monetary crimes when committed.

I would also like to encourage The Ministry of Health and Welfare to expand and reprioritize the scope of your responsibilities. The emphasis in the Special Adoption Act and its proposed revisions is on verifying suitability for prospective adoptive families and in making improvements to post-adoption services. By the time a child reaches an adoption agency, the original family is already in crisis. The child is already in crisis. How can this be in the “best interest of the children” when the child’s pain began before they were even born?

Social stigmatization is trauma. Food and housing insecurity is trauma. Family separation is trauma. As an adoptee, I would have far preferred the prevention of my trauma to attempts to manage or repair it.

The belief that it is the duty of the government to verify that children are adapting to receiving families creates a preventable secondary trauma. With this mindset, the psychological and emotional burden of adaptation falls entirely on the child. Isn’t it the duty of a parent – any parent, whether biological or otherwise, to provide the necessary support for their child to thrive?

What parent sees their small child trying to reach something on a high shelf and expects their child to climb the bookcase? It is the parent who grabs the book. It is the parent who observes the child’s need, then adapts. Expecting the child to adapt puts them in danger. So why is the expectation different when sending a child to live with a different family in a foreign country? Is that child not at risk of falling if the adults around them fail to adapt?

During the International Conference for Verifying and Guaranteeing the Human Rights of Overseas Adoptees, held on February 22nd, Director Kim from The Ministry of Health and Welfare stated that “adoption is a better alternative to care facilities”. I would like all of us – government officials, citizens, and adoptees to dream bigger. What would it take to support entire families, rather than separating them? Could we improve access to childcare, healthcare, economic opportunity. What about building programs that encourage extended family or community support? If adoption is a better alternative to care facilities, then family preservation is better than adoption.

Through the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Korea has committed to learning the truth about the past. I would like to see the government provide support for all involved, so that we can all move effectively forward into our collective future.

If we are to live up to our highest ideals, we must include everyone. We all belong to a human family. Adoption is in many ways, an issue that affects everyone. By investing into infrastructure, education, science, food security, the environment, and other worthy endeavors, we can create a society that allows all families to be successful. We will be the Republic of Korea that the world believes us to be – in governance, diplomacy, and most importantly, in our humanity.