A look at Korean adoption and women’s rights

Annyong, Lindsay here!

After Whit’s endearing blog about working together, I have to break up the laughs for a serious blog.

This weekend, I went to hear a monthly talk at the local Gwangju International Center, a true refuge for foreigners living in this city. It’s a large nonprofit that publishes a magazine, offers Korean classes and hosts events throughout the month to bring Koreans and internationals together.

I went to hear three Korean American women speak about a nonprofit they have started called Adoptee Solidarity Korea, a group that is working to stop international adoptions.

Yes, this might sound strange. Why not give mothers the option to send their children to a family in America, a chance for this child to be automatically considered “successful” because they have lived and studied in the West?

But, these women–who have had wonderful lives in America and have turned out “successful”–have come back to try to right a wrong in Korean society.

The wrong is this: single mothers in Korea are forced by societal norms to either give up their baby for adoption or have an abortion (Korea has one of the highest abortation rates in the world). This equates to 6 children per day being put up for adoption, despite the country’s low birth rate (the 4th lowest in the world.)

But Koreans do not and will not (for the most part) adopt other Koreans. Bloodlines are important in Korea. So important that they would never adopt another child not related to their family. Especially if it were a boy, who would one day receive his parents’ inheritance.

Due to international pressure, Korea has finally started changing laws and capping international adoptions to force its people to change this social attitude.

International adoptions from Korea started in the 1950s, just after the Korean War, when the country was war-torn and dirt poor. But now, Korea has the 13th largest economy in the world. So, in a nutshell, this nonprofit is telling Korea: Stop sending away your children. You can and should take care of your children.

Here are some more facts that I found fascinating (I took notes during the presentation. I know. Dork.):

  • As of 2006, 227,983 Korean babies were adopted. Of those, 69.8 percent were adopted overseas while 30.2 percent were domestically adopted.
  • About 1,000 children are sent to orphanages or child welfare centers every year due to divorce.
  • Single mothers do not keep their children in Korea: 97 percent of single mothers give their children up in Korea compared to 2 percent in America.
  • There are now 19,000 children in Korean orphanges, but about 75 percent of them are not eligible for adoption. (This is because both parents have to sign releases, and usually after a divorce, at least one of the parents won’t claim ownership of the child because they cannot mix him with a new family after remarrying.)
  • Korea ranks 54th out of 58 countries for the quality of women’s rights.
  • One out of four high schoolers who are sexually active have had an abortion. (Hence the low teenage pregnancy rate). Korean women use abortions as birth control.
  • Only 10 hours of sex education are required in public schools. Most of the time, administrators skirt the rules to avoid the taboo topic and students receive no sex education.
  • There are absolutely no fees for Koreans to adopt other Koreans. The adoption process is free, and then the government gives $100 per month until the child is 12.
  • Korea spends 0.2 percent of its GDP on welfare services for children and families, while the global average is 2.4 percent.

If you are interested in learning more, you can also visit http://www.adopteesolidarity.org/ for more details.


  1. Hello this is Allie and Jay I just wanted to let you know that we just moved to Taiwan..so we are not that far from you…Maybe we can visit sometime. Hope things are well hope to talk to you soon…our blog is jayandallie.blogspot.com


  2. Summer says:

    Very interesting, Lindsay, to look at international adoptions from another perspective.


  3. Third Mom says:

    Thank you for this post, and for supporting ASK!!


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