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Raising child not a matter of choice
Richard Boas, an ophthalmologist from Connecticut, and his wife adopted a four-month-old baby girl from Korea 22 years ago.
"We had a sense of rescuing the child from the very uncertainty in Korea and doing a favor for her mother and for Korean society," Boas told The Korea Herald on his visit to Seoul last week.
Until a few years ago, he helped other Americans adopt foreign children.
However, it was in 2006 when he encountered his "own blind spot" that had bothered him over the years since his daughter's adoption.
While visiting Korea along with other social workers, he met a dozen of pregnant women, all unmarried and around 20 years old, at an adoption facility in Daegu.
"We were sitting around a table. They all had already agreed to give up their children.
"I realized that I had not validated a real woman, my daughter's natural mother who loved her child as much as I did and likely had to give up her daughter for adoption very painfully," he said.
Then, he began rethinking his activities promoting international adoption and decided to help unwed moms in Korea raise their children for themselves.
In 2008, he started the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, which is aimed at advocating the rights of the mothers and their children - the nation's first of its kind.
Even though it has been just two years since the establishment, the KUMSN has already increased the visibility of the unwed moms' issue in Korean society. It has sponsored scholarly research and provided direct support for some women and children as well as agencies advocating them.
The 60-year-old American father is now called "godfather of Korean unwed moms" here.
"One of the most satisfying things is to share my story to brining up the issue of unwed moms and people started recognizing it," he said.
Many Koreans say it would be better for the kids of unwed mothers to be offered a better life through international or domestic adoption.
The nation's adoption rate also reflects an age-old mindset. According to the state-run Korean Women's Development Institute, nearly 70 percent of Korean unmarried mothers gave their children up for adoption in 2008, while the figure in the United States was only 1 percent.
He still thinks that adoption is needed and should be an option for vulnerable women. The situation in Haiti is an example, he said.
"However, Korea is a developed country with an advanced democracy. Why does Korea see itself as an exception?"
The Hague Adoption Convention, an international resolution aimed at ensuring the best interests of adopted children, prioritizes birth mothers to raise their children over domestic and international adoption.
While some 70 nations in the world have already signed the agreement, Korea is one of few countries that are yet to join.
He pointed out that the nation's discussion on adoption is still superficial.
"Those who promote adoption think they are doing the right thing. I also used to have that mindset. However, at the root of it, there are mothers and kids that need support.
"I think it's a matter of simple mathematics. If more mothers raise their children, there's going to be less adoption, domestically and internationally," he said.
He also gave some encouragement to the unmarried pregnant women who still hesitate to bring their babies into the world.
"You are an individual who needs to live a life that you feel is best for you, a life of your choosing. And you have to determine your path. This would include woman's or couples' desire to raise a child.
"If you decide that you want to have your own child, I will say more power to you. There are people and resources out there that can help you."
By Lee Ji-yoon