Recently, the New York Times has focused on women’s rights and on the stigma of single parenting and adoption in Korea. Because sex is still a taboo subject in Korea, and family is of the utmost importance, children born out of wedlock are often aborted or put up for adoption. As Lee Mee-kyong, a 33-year-old unwed mother put it in the Choe Sang-Hun’s Times article, “Once you become an unwed mom, you’re branded as immoral and a failure. People treat you as if you had committed a crime. You fall to the bottom rung of society.”
Many of the older generation Koreans do not see how it can be, or should be, any other way. One woman told the Times about her older brother trying to force her to an abortion clinic and then insisting that she give the child up for adoption. Korean society can be so homogenous and comforming that to do something so dissonant from Korean societal norms is unthinkable. To keep a child without a husband or to adopt someone else’s child, is not a common practice in Korea. Many Korean orphans are sent abroad.
But today some Koreans are seeing that, despite cultural mores, this shouldn’t be the way it is. There have been two groups formed by Korean adoptees in America who are trying to help stop the exporting of Korean babies. One leader of such a group, Jane Jeong Trenka, who is a Korean-born adoptee and leader of the Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea, said flatly that “culture is not an excuse to abuse human rights.”
The Times is also telling the stories of the Koreans who have been given up for adoption and adopted by American families. These Koreans have told stories of how they have struggled with their Korean identity, returned to Korea to find their family and have tried to understand why they were given up. One man told a story of meeting his grandmother who was unforgiving of his not learning to speak Korean.
It is a social issue, but also a very political one as the government has done little in the past to encourage adoption within Korea or help unwed mothers keep their children. But last week the Korea Times reported that the government is making more efforts to give financial and emotional support to unwed mothers so they can keep their children.
Hopefully the government will help change people’s minds on children born out of wedlock. We’ll see. For now there are many orphanages in Korea, mostly with Korean girls, that need volunteers to help them learn English and to have a little fun too.
If you are in Gwangju check out Sungbin’s Foreign Volunteers, led by a very knowledgable and friendly foreigner:
Also see Sungbin’s Foreign Volunteers Facebook page:
Check out our blogs about adoption and orphanages in Korea from a few months ago.