KUMSN Translation Room
The original article, "우리도 평범한 사회구성원일 뿐" was published in Daehan News in Aug 8, 2009 and translated by KUMSN. If you have any question, please contact KUMSN firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We Too Are Just Ordinary Members of Society”
Unwed mothers issue must be disclosed and visualized according to Korean social climate
On the 6th, Richard Boas, Director of the Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network, made a visit to Korea. Boas has three children—his relationship with two of his children began at the hospital, and with his third child, at the airport. His third child, a “love born from the heart,” is Esther, whom he adopted in 1988, and was originally born in Busan. I met with Director Boas as well as KUMSN coordinator Hee Jung Kwon, Cheryl Mitchell (Deputy Secretary, Agency of Human Services, State of Vermont and research professor at the University of Vermont), and Ellen Furnari (KUMSN Councilor) at the “Better Understanding Support Policies for Unwed Moms” seminar, which was held at 2pm on the 8th (Sat.) at the Seoul City Hanbumo Support Center (Director Song Hyang Sup).
Q1. Tell us about your decision to establish the Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network.
A1. While 70% of Korean unwed mothers give their children up for adoption, in the U.S. only 2% send their children to be adopted. For the past 22 years, I have been concerned with the state of Korean foreign adoption, and wanted to be of help to Korea. It is difficult to discuss the future of Korea without a solution to the adoption problem. The decision to keep and raise a child should be up to the unwed mother herself. On that point, the Korea Unwed Mothers Support Network is the only organization to try to make an issue of this problem and to help stimulate policy changes. We need to figure out what is the best way to help unwed mothers and their children. As an American, I’m not in a position to say this or that, but I think that my work is to help Koreans make this problem a public issue and to start solving it through means suitable to Koreans.
Q2. I was a bit embarrassed to hear that a foreigner wanted to help and support Korean unwed mothers. I’ve heard that social welfare systems in the U.S. are well established. Tell us about them.
A2. (Dr. Cheryl Mitchell) In the U.S., all families with children, with no discrimination regarding marital status, are able to receive the same aid. Programs such as local community programs, high school (GED) classes, health management, job training, and counseling are offered. Furthermore, financial support is offered for housing, food, health, and education (college matriculation).
Q3. You have an adopted daughter, Esther. What do you think about the difference between the love for a blood related child and a child you only raised?
A3. I love all three of my children the same. Esther is my third child. My first two (biological) children I met at the hospital, and Esther, at the airport. There are sensitive parts to our relationship since Esther was born in another country and bears a different culture. But with Esther I have a different kind of bond. Through Esther I have a connection with her birth mother. Therefore I live with a sense of responsibility toward Esther’s birth mother, not forgetting that bond with her.
Q4. Personally, I believe that for the number of unwed mothers to decrease in Korean society, sex education in schools needs to be revitalized, and the tendency to consider sex as taboo needs to be resisted. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.
A4. (Dr. Cheryl Mitchell) There needs to be a place where one could receive appropriate and adequate sex education—whether it is for boys, girls, adult men, or adult women, it is necessary. Women especially need to know to treat her own body preciously, and the government needs to strengthen and improve sex education. And this type of sex education shouldn’t be short term but rather be included into a continuing health education.
Q5. It seems that in order to press the Korean government for substantial policies related to unwed mothers, publicity needs to be made through media or through networks among organizations and the public. In which direction do you believe that Korea should move forward?
A5. In order for unwed mothers and their children to become happy members of Korean society, positive solutions need to be found through solidarity among various organizations and institutions. There is no need to be ashamed of this problem. We need to think about how unwed mothers and their children can live as equal members of society. We (KUMSN) are only an outside organization. Organizations and institutions within Korea must take the initiative to make issue of and bring light to the problem of unwed mothers, and I believe that this can bring a win-win situation for both Korean unwed mothers and the Korean society, which at the moment is struggling with low birthrates. To help unwed mothers and their children is the right thing to do. Once when I visited the Vermont Parent Child Center, I was able to participate in the “learning together” program. Similar programs must happen in Korea.
Reporter Young Mi Baek