Australian Journal of Adoption Vol.3, No. 1, 2011
Unwed Mothers, Adoption and Gender Law
International forum in Korea
27th May 2011
An international forum, entitled Unwed Mothers, Adoption and Gender Law, was organised by the Institute of Gender and Law at Ewha Womans University, in Seoul, South Korea. Ewha has the distinction of being the oldest women’s educational institution in the world and has grown to become the world’s largest women’s university. The Institute of Gender and Law decided to celebrate its first anniversary by hosting this forum, which was an important event at a high profile educational facility and attracted considerable interest from the Korean media.
The programme was as follows:
1. Judge Amy Davenport: Adoption Law in Vermont: A Delicate Balancing of Interests
2. Jane Jeong Trenka: Internationally Adopted Koreans and the Movement to Revise the Korean Special Adoption Law
3. Evelyn Robinson: The Change of an Adoption Act and Policy in Australia 4. Ok-Ju Shin: The Study on Legal and Practical Measures for Unwed Mothers’ Protection in Germany
5. Hee-Jung Kwon: Issues of Unwed Mothers from the Perspectives of Human Right, Maternal Right and Children’s Benefit
6. Hyon-Mi Chong: Protection of Unwed Mothers’ Rights in Korea
7. Mi-Jeong Lee: Willingness to Keep Children and Hardships of Raising Them among Unwed Mothers
The programme concluded with a panel discussion and contributions and questions from the floor.
It was clear from the forum that current attitudes towards unmarried mothers and illegitimate children in Korea are very similar to those which prevailed in countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and North America from the 1950s to the 1970s. The social changes which have occurred in many Western locations since that time are beginning to occur in Korea, where there are now many who are prepared to make a stand and refuse to tolerate discrimination and inequity.
The following issues were highlighted by the speakers:
· Adoption has always been largely a women’s issue and has been linked to the status of unmarried women in society. It is closely linked to the empowerment of women, their ability to control their own fertility and their freedom to make informed choices around parenting, safe from coercion. In some countries these freedoms do not yet exist.
· In many countries unmarried mothers are now able to raise their children with community and government support.
· There are two main challenges facing Korea with regard to adoption: services are needed to assist those who have already experienced adoption separation and supports need to be provided to prevent further family breakdowns.
· Records indicate that at least 200,000 Koreans have been adopted out of Korea since the 1950s and raised in other countries. Little is known about the long term impact of this loss on the Korean mothers and families, because few of them have felt confident to speak out about their experiences.
· Many adults who were adopted out of Korea as children are now returning there in search of family and in an attempt to connect with their sense of being Korean. Some have made Korea their home. They are frustrated by lack of information owing to poor record-keeping in the past and lack of appropriate counselling services to assist them to address their issues of cultural displacement and to support them on their reunion journeys. Some of their stories are harrowing, but their enthusiasm and commitment are admirable and they are a powerful force for change.
· Support groups exist in Korea for mothers who have lost children to adoption, for adults who were adopted out of Korea as children and for single parent families. They are gradually raising their profiles and increasing community awareness of their issues.
· Sending Korean children to live in other countries is not solving any of the problems which exist in Korea and is, in fact, creating long term grief and loss issues for those involved.
· There are many people who are working in Korea to support those whose lives have already been affected by adoption separation and to bring about social change and replace intercountry adoption with more family-focussed alternatives. They are educating the Korean community about the issues for unmarried mothers, who are struggling to resist the pressure on them to part with their children for adoption and for those who have already experienced adoption separation and are suffering complex long term grief and loss issues.
· There is an acknowledgement in other countries that great progress has been made in Australia, where the number of adoptions has reduced dramatically, owing to the emphasis on family preservation. Australia has led the world with adoption legislation which has been informed by the experiences of the past and post-adoption support services in Australia for family members who have already experienced adoption separation are widely available.
· There is a growing awareness in Korea of the importance of family preservation. However, unmarried mothers in Korea are still being disempowered in the way that they once were in Australian society and because of the shame they are being made to feel, some are still being coerced into parting with their children.
· Other countries can support Korea by encouraging their governments to stop colluding in this situation by accepting these children.
· The solution to Korea’s social problems lie within Korea and other countries can assist the Korean people to take responsibility for solving those problems and offer positive assistance where they are able.
Since the forum, Korea has announced changes to their adoption legislation. These changes have been drawn up after extensive consultation with the community. The Korean government now plans to stop allowing their children to be adopted into other countries, to provide more support to unmarried mothers to raise their children and to assist those adults who were adopted as children out of Korea. They are also enacting legislation which will make it illegal for a mother to consent to adoption until at least one week after the birth of her child and a further piece of legislation to make birth registration compulsory.