In 1988 Dr. Richard Boas and his family adopted a baby from Korea. She was a welcome and wonderful addition to their lives. Many years later, in 2006, as part of Dr. Boas’ interest to understand adoption better, he visited Korea for the first time and spent time with several different adoption programs. This trip changed him forever.
In Seoul, he held babies in a nursery, met special needs children and a three month old baby and his foster mom. All had been relinquished by their unwed mothers. But what made the biggest impact was when he met a dozen young women in a Social Welfare Society facility in Daegu. Between the ages of 18 and 24, all were unmarried, all were pregnant, and every single one of these mothers had already committed to give up her child. At that moment he realized that, 19 years before, his daughter’s mother was just like these women, and his daughter was one of these babies relinquished due to social pressure.
Dr. Boas realized he had been blind to the circumstances of unwed Korean mothers, their children and families, and the possible negative effects of adoption, especially international adoption, on mother and child. Seventy percent of unmarried Korean mothers give up their children. In comparison, the US figure is only two percent.
Why the disparity in Korea? Isn’t it the right of any loving, capable mother to bring up her child, if she chooses, not just in Korea, but anywhere in the world? These dozen women, whom I had every reason to believe were as loving as any other mother, had painfully relinquished their children. Effectively, they had no choice.
But, if an unwed woman in Korea keeps and raises her child, both usually endure social stigma, hostility, alienation from her family, and lack of government support even though Korea is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, with the 13th largest economy. An unwed mother in Korea is told that, since she created her problem, she must solve it, alone. If a woman gives up her child to adoption (usually the case), she is faced with the guilt and shame that will stay with her for the rest of her life. It is painful to see any woman give up her child simply because government and people- particularly family- are not willing to support her.
Shortly after returning home, Dr. Boas read a blog written by Marie Myung Ok Lee, who teaches creative writing at Brown University and studied unmarried Korean birthmothers on a Fulbright Fellowship. The blog’s entry was entitled “How Working With Unmarried Korean Birth Mothers Colored My Ideas About Adoption.” In it Marie described her experience with moms at Ae Ran Won Unmarried Mothers Home in Seoul. She wrote two “equations:”
1. The usual adoption “equation” is Family + Adopted Korean Child = Happy Family
2. The truly honest “equation” is Family + Adopted Korean Child = Happy Family + (Korean Birthmother – Her Child)
This blog articulated what Dr. Boas was feeling but hadn’t yet put in to words. Neither he, nor anyone along the way of his daughter’s adoption, had recognized or validated the woman who gave birth to this child, nor the relationship between them. He began to understand why he, like others, had found it difficult to be aware of the reality of unwed mothers—anywhere. It’s hard to wrap your mind around adoption and the mom at the same time.
He now began to ask how he, an adoptive parent, could help so that the best interests of unwed moms and their children in Korea are met. If a woman chooses to keep and raise her child, how might he help increase the likelihood that she would be able to do this and decrease the suffering for her and her child? He wondered why even though some overseas adoption may always be necessary, why isn’t Korea, one of the world’s most prosperous nations, helping its own? Why isn’t it doing everything it can to help unmarried women keep and raise their children-in Korea? So they can grow up to be productive citizens? These brave women—and their children—deserve all the help they can get!
In the spring of 2007, he founded what would become the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network. With an office in Seoul and two people on staff, KUMSN is the only organization whose only focus is advocating for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea.
Since spring 2007, KUMSN has made progress and contributed to changes in Korean society. There has been an increase in attention to the needs and situation of unwed mothers and their children by researchers, various Nongovernmental Organizations, the press, and most importantly the Korean government, particularly in the Ministries of Health, Welfare and Family, and Education.
Address : #201 369-9, Hapjeong-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul 121-897 Korea | TEL : 82-2-734-5007, 3007 | FAX : 82-2-720-5007