[Special report] One year later, the effects of the revised adoption law

Posted on : 2013-09-20 06:49 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Adoption law was revised to help maintain original families, though there appear to be side effects

By Park Im-keun, North Jeolla correspondent

A female elementary school teacher in North Jeolla Province, surnamed Kim, was only able to adopt her daughter in June after a long and tedious process that lasted 7 months. Kim, who is in her 40s, said, “I originally decided to adopt my daughter because of my sterility, and it took so much effort and patience to get through the whole process for adoption. It was so discouraging and made me want to give up. Having experienced all difficulties I had during the adoption process, I wouldn’t dare encourage anyone around me to consider adoption”.

Kim hesitated at first, but decided to adopt after meeting her daughter for the first time last autumn at an adoption agency. She said that after seeing her daughter smile like the sun, she could not simply turn away from her. She said, “Some people told me that I made the decision too quickly, especially when you compare with ordinary women who usually take 10 months before giving birth. Despite what they said, I felt that I was in a totally different situation from ordinary pregnant women who actually make contact with their babies during pregnancy. In my case, I did not have much choice but to prepare for the adoption while still anxious and worried if I made the right decision”.

Kim is not the only person who has faced serious challenges in seeking to adopt. A civil complaint was delivered to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission in March, saying, “It has taken 6 months since I applied for the initial approval for adoption. In addition to the 6 months of training for adoptive parents, home inspection, and court investigation, I was just told that I still need to go through some more steps. Like this, it takes such a long time before the Family Court gives the adoption final approval. I therefore think the it’s necessary to make the adoption process faster.”

An officer from the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission said on Aug. 2, “After the Special Adoption Law went into effect last August, there have been more public complaints from people in their 30s and 40s who are seeking to adopt. In particular, they have argued that the preparation time period for the adoption must be shortened by allocated the necessary tasks to people especially trained to handle them.

Aug. 5 marked one year since Special Adoption Law was enacted. The act strengthened the adoption application process and conditions. The ‘Special Law on Promoting Adoption and Relevant Procedures’ was revised to become ‘Special Law on Adoption’ on Aug. 4, 2011, and it came into effect on August 5 2012. The revised law represents a shift in government policy from promoting adoption to seeking to maintain original families.

Hankyoreh reporter Park Im-keun enjoying a day out with his wife and son Park Chan-oh
Hankyoreh reporter Park Im-keun enjoying a day out with his wife and son Park Chan-oh

The Special Adoption Law requires birth and family status registration before adoption can take place. The Special Law also stipulates that babies can only be adopted after a minimum seven-day deliberative period. It requires the adoption to be approved by the Family Court, which is different from the old system where adoptions were registered with local governments.

In May, South Korea officially signed the Hague Adoption Convention, which seeks to protect the safety and rights of children adopted internationally, and regulates the process and conditions for international adoption. The Hague Adoption Convention was concluded in 1993 and went into effect in 1995. South Korea has been criticized by the international community for not joining the Convention until this May. The South Korean government has prepared to sign the Convention by developing its own laws on adoption and the Special Adoption Law was part of that. The core of the Hague Adoption Convention is that children should be raised in their original families. If that is not practicable, they should be adopted within the same country. If domestic adoption is not an option, then they should be adopted internationally, so they can still grow up in a family environment.

Some have argued that additional measures are needed to complement the Special Adoption Law. The law requires mothers to register before they can put their babies up for adoption, which leads some to abandon their babies due to concerns that the birth would be added to their permanent record. Yang Eun-sil, a counselor at HOLT Children’s Services in North Jeolla Province, said, ”The current revised law makes it more complicated for mothers to put up their babies for adoption. For families seeking to adopt, the process has become more difficult. The original law was revised in order to help children remain with their original family, but the revision went through too abruptly, without sufficiently considering the social circumstances. This has caused many side effects, so I believe it is essential to revise the revised Special Adoption Law.“

Once the child is adopted, the birth record is automatically deleted from the biological parents’ record. The record remains permanently if the child is not adopted. It normally takes 5 to 8 years before a child is sent abroad for adoption. Meanwhile, the birth registration would remain on the original mother’s record, which could complicate her social life and marriage prospects.

In recent years, girls have become more commonly preferred by families seeking to adopt. According to Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics on domestic adoption, says 715 females were adopted out of the total 1,125 South Korean children who were adopted in 2012. It is generally believed that girls are preferred due to issues with the inheritance of properties after parents die.

There has also been controversy over the seven-day deliberation period. The government’s decision on front effectively discourages adoption while there is a lack of care facilities for single mothers. It doesn’t quite make sense to encourage single mothers to care for their children while not providing adequate care facilities.

Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics show that 1,048 domestically adopted children out of 1,125 (almost 93%) were from single mothers. A similar portion of internationally adopted children (696 out of 755, or almost 92%) were also from single mothers.

A teenage single mother once complained to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, saying "I had a baby, but I lost contact with my boyfriend as soon as I told him about it. Because the father of my child and I are both minors, even if I had contact with him, the current Special Law requires approvals from both mine and his parents for my child to be adopted."

Usually teenage single mothers are so poor that they live in cheap hotels or public bathhouses. They use foster care facilities once they are completely broke. A source from an adoption agency said, "Many of the single mothers who come for counseling actually get frightened and cut off their contact as soon as they learned that they must register the birth before applying for adoption. I’m really concerned that the current procedure may lead single mothers to make wrong decision."

Democratic Party lawmaker Baek Jae-hyun submitted a revision for the Special Adoption Law in January. The proposed revision seeks exonerating teenage mothers from compulsory birth registration. Baek said, "Although the Special Adoption Law is well-intentioned, there have been some negative side effects like mother abandoning their babies. In that sense, the law needs to be partly revised and provided complementary measures to take real social circumstances into consideration, instead of being based purely on ideals." The proposed revision has not been discussed since then by the related parliamentary committees.

 at a festival on Children’s Day
at a festival on Children’s Day

But there are still those who wish to adopt. I, myself, adopted a son and he is now 4 years old. I adopted him in December 2009 when he was only 2 months old. My life has changed thoroughly since then. I have to come home early to help my wife who is nearly exhausted from taking care of our son every day. I therefore have much less time to go out in the evening. In fact, I have to spend all my weekends taking care of my son. Though it’s not at all easy, I enjoy spending time with him at home. I can take a bath with him, which is a great experience to build closeness in our father-son relationship.

It is not only my daily life that has changed, but also my relationship with my wife. Due to my job as a reporter, I used to spend a lot of time out drinking with sources or other contacts, which often caused problems between my wife and I. Since we adopted our son, we haven’t had these kinds of uncomfortable issues. I can’t argue with my wife, as whenever I try, my son tries to make us shake hands and make up. When this happens, it makes me rather embarrassed and appreciative of our son. He is a gift from God.

Since the adoption, my state of mind has also changed. I have become more peaceful and generous than I was before we adopted him. I feel like I am learning things that I missed out on in the past. I also feel grateful that our son has grown up without many health problems. He had had some problems with pulmonary function, but fortunately they have taken care of themselves as he has gotten older.

I have regularly participated in a meeting for families with adopted children, which are intended to make the children feel less alone. A 12-year-old child cried for days after realizing that he/she was adopted. But the child built more confidence after making friends with similar experiences at the meeting.

 May 5.
May 5.

Since the Special Law was revised last year, the number of cases where the parents have given up on raising their children has also been increasing. According to the National Police Agency, the official number of child abandonment in 2012 increased to 139 from 127 in 2011. There are also believed to be undocumented cases of child abandonment.

Some dispute the contention that the revised law is the cause of higher instances of child abandonment. Lee Hyun-joo, who leads the Special Solution for Adoption team at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said, "Child abandonment has continuously increased over the last 3 years and is more attributable to the growing number of children being born out of wedlock and families that don’t remain intact than to the revised Special Adoption Law".

It is understood that only 6 children in North Jeolla Province have been adopted in the year since the Special Law on Adoption was enacted. This is much lower than past figures of around 50 per year.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, "There were only 35 adoptions made nationwide between August and December last year due mainly to confusion that resulted from the revised Special Law, as the law was still new. From this April, however, the number has reached almost 70 per month and is likely to match previous figures".


Translated by Lee Dong-ju, Hankyoreh English Intern


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