NATIONAL ADOPTION AWARENESS MONTH – ADOPTION, THE OTHER SIDE
Submitted by Richard Boas
Wilton CT 06897
Just in time for National Adoption Awareness month, the Evan B. Donaldson Institute issued the results of a first-of-its kind study about the phenomenon and impact of inter-racial adoption, most of which involve Asian children and white parents. Since 1971, nearly a half-million children have been adopted from other countries, the vast majority of them from orphanages throughout Asia, South America and, more recently, Africa.
The report focused its conclusions on the survey responses of 179 adult adoptees born in South Korea and adopted by two white parents, and those of 156 Caucasian respondents born in the U.S. and adopted by two white parents, who together comprised 70 percent of the survey respondents. It was designed to help unearth how adult adoptees perceive their racial identity and their identity as an adoptee.
What the study didn’t delve into was how and why these babies became orphans in the first place and how that knowledge impacts their identities.
Twenty-two years ago, I adopted a baby girl from Korea: my wonderful daughter, Esther. I believKed then, and know for certain now, that when she joined our family, her life here in the United States would be better than the one awaiting her in Korea.
I was thrilled to have a new baby in our family. What I didn’t try to uncover was why my daughter, and tens of thousands of Korean adoptees like her, were relinquished by their mothers in the first place. Eventually, I discovered it was because the majority of those babies were born to unwed mothers.
In Korea, being an unwed mother is a social stigma that is so severe that, according to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, the vast majority of these women choose to have abortions, even though they are illegal in Korea. If an unwed mother does give birth, chances are she will relinquish her child. Ninety percent of the 1,250 Korean children who were adopted abroad last year were born to unmarried women, according to the Korean Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs, while in the case of domestic adoption, 80.9% of the 1,306 children were born out of wedlock. In the United States, only one percent of unwed mothers give up their children for adoption, says the Department of Health and Human Services.
Unwed mothers face many hardships in Korea: poverty, shame and disgrace. They are shunned by their families. Unable to find employment, they receive $45 to help with childcare, while families who adopt receive about $100.
The numbers are disturbing. But they don’t begin to come close to telling the human story behind the painful decision by these mothers. A research study performed by the Korean Women’s Development Institute, and funded by Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, found 32% of unwed pregnant Korean women today say they want to keep their children. When appropriate counseling, support and an informed choice are available, most women choose to keep and raise their children—but only a small number of such mothers are presently helped.
I am not against adoption. I am for choice; I am for what is best for mother and child. I recognize, in some cases, adoption is the best option and in others it may be the only option. Our bigger hope, though, is that increasingly, unwed and pregnant Korean women will have the resources and support available to choose the option that is best for them and their children- free of prevailing attitudes poisoned by prejudice.
Strikingly, the discrimination that unwed moms in Korea face is not dissimilar to that which unwed moms face in developing countries. But Korea is not a developing country. Korea is the 13th largest economy in the world. Korea also has one of the lowest birthrates of any developed nation.
Moms keeping and raising their children is a basic human right. Korea needs to increase its support of these mothers.
During National Adoption Awareness month, and throughout the year, it is important to remember the other side of adoption, the side nobody talks about: the mother who gave up her child because she had no other choice.
Korea has a great opportunity to make progress in its treatment of unwed mothers and their children- while helping insure their very future in the process. It is time for Korea to move forward
Dr. Richard Boas is founder and President of Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea.