There is a bitter conflict between the pro-adoption organizations and the anti-adoption organizations in Korea. On the pro-adoption side MPAK is teamed with the adoption agencies and the Korean Government’s Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), and the other side is represented by KoRoots, adoptee organizations called TRACK and ASK, and the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Networks (KUMSN).
With the recent Korean Government’s implementation of a stricter control on abortion practices and limiting the number of children being adopted abroad through the quota system have resulted in overabundance of homeless children in Korea. As of last May, there have been over 1800 babies in Korea that have no place to go. Adoption agencies are filled to capacity to handle additional intakes, and they have in fact started turning away the birthmothers wanting to relinquish their unplanned pregnancies.
It was 1800 in May. By now it may be over 2000. Seeing this tragedy, MPAK in Korea has worked with MOHW and the domestic adoption agencies to produce the PSAs to find homes for these children domestically. Initially we produced 30 such PSAs on 30 different babies that needed homes. Each PSA is only one minute long and features one baby. The images of the babies in the PSAs are real, but pseudo names are used to protect their identities. The PSA provides no other identifying information other than some description on how cute the babies are and what their personality traits are. At the bottom of each PSA lists the names of the domestic adoption agencies that the viewers can contact to learn more on the babies. Each PSA concludes with a remark like, “…who would be the mother and father for this baby...”
A screen shot of a PSA - Kim, Yul (not real name), 6 months old. The small letters in the logo on the upper right side says, "Campaign to Find Families"
Another screen shot of a PSA featuring Jang, Woojin (not real name), (4 mos).
Just a meager 30 PSAs out of 1800 babies that need homes were produced initially. The idea for the PSA was formed when we learned this is how things are done in the US with programs such as “Wednesday’s Child” broadcast featuring children in need of homes. To learn more about this, in April 2011 MPAK and MOHW from Korea visited and interviewed the adoption experts in the US State Department and the Adoption Exchange. There we learned that the success rate for the programs such as “Wednesday’s Child” is staggering 70%, as that many featured children would find homes. So we wanted to use the similar strategy to find homes for the 1800 babies that have no place to go. So producing the 30 PSAs was a start.
Initially the PSAs were being broadcasted through a Christian Broadcasting Station (CBS) in Korea. They started to broadcast three PSAs each day. However, within a day or two of the broadcast, there were several protests against the station to immediately stop the broadcast, claiming that featuring of the babies through such means is an infringement of human rights violation. The person who led this charge was Rev. Kim Dohyun of KoRoots, who has always spoken out against adoption, whether be it intercountry or domestic.
He has been a strong advocate of birthmothers’ rights. That in and of itself is a good cause and somebody needs to advocate on behalf of them to provide economic and social environment for the birthmothers that want to keep their babies. However, where he is very wrong is that he blames adoption for the cause of separation of children from their birthmothers. So he feels the need to speak against any form of adoption both domestic and intercountry.
What he fails to recognize is that adoption is a response to already separated children, not the other way around. Each year there are so many more birthmothers that choose to give up their babies than those that want to keep them. So his effort to speak against adoption is falling on deft ears. Last year I remember being in a same meeting sponsored by the Korean government on an adoption forum, and he remarked that he will run a campaign to remove The National Adoption Day (May 11) in Korea. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and so did many others in the room. Of course, he will never succeed in this.
Regarding the PSAs to find homes for the children, his reasoning is that using the actual images of children in the PSAs is to commercialize the adoption using children, thus this is a violation of human rights. That using their real images violates children’s rights to privacy. In a country where adoption is often practiced secretly, the PSAs represented a dramatic new approach to the adoption promotion where the majority of Korean nationals were not familiar with. Rev. Kim called on the National Human Rights Commission in Korea to investigate the whole matter.
However, having known the Rev. Kim over several years and being familiar with his work, I believe his real motives for the accusation stems more from his opposition to adoption rather than human rights reasons. To his perspective, there are 1800 birthmothers that deserve to raise their own children, and the PSAs will take that opportunity away from the birthmothers. However, he does not want to admit the fact that those 1800 birthmothers have willingly abandoned their children and don’t want them back. Not surprisingly, Rev. Kim wasn’t the only one that protested against the broadcasting of the PSAs.
The CBS TV station, upon hearing the complaints from several people, decided to temporarily hold off the broadcast as they did not want to be in the middle of a conflict that might risk the status as a Christian broadcast station. It was a very disappointing decision, but I was able to understand their predicament as well.
Upon viewing the PSAs, the Human Rights Commission issued a stated position that the PSAs violated the Human Rights. It was yet another blow in our efforts to find homes. Upon reading their explanation, they did not object to adoption promotion, but objected in the method of using the actual images to promote the cause for children and feared that their interests may not be best served through transparency in adoption rather than secrecy.
It was obvious that the Commission had a bias against the transparent adoption, which they were quiet ignorant. They were not aware that the adoption culture in Korea was moving fast towards transparent adoption culture rather than the traditional secret adoption practices. Adoption agencies have shown that more than 50% of the couples are now choosing to be transparent in their adoptions.
I wrote an email to the Commission explaining why the PSAs are not a violation of human rights but an effort to establish human rights for homeless children. I reasoned that if Korea doesn’t invest in one minute of effort to find a home for a child, he/she may grow up in an institution for 18 years, and deprived of a family that would become even greater form of child abuse and human rights violation. It doesn’t end in 18 years. The impact and the consequences of having lived in an institution will follow the rest of child’s life. I challenged them by stating that either choose one minute or choose 18 years of misery and suffering. Thus the PSAs was an effort to restore the human rights for the homeless children, not the other way around.
The Human Rights Commission in Korea has not responded to my email. Thus I have concluded that the Human Rights Commission in Korea is really out of touch with the reality and I hold them in contempt for blocking the opportunities for children to grow up in homes.
Interestingly enough, when we (MPAK and MOHW) met earlier in April 2011 with the representatives from the US State Department and the Adoption Exchange, we asked a few questions regarding the possibility that some may object to the PSAs by taking issues that it violates privacy and human rights. Their answers were very candid. They stated, “That sort of opposition is seen even in the US, but we just ignore them. There will always be some who will take issue with this approach to find homes, but the results show that PSAs do work and so many children have found homes. What could be more important that?” I guess another question can be raised by asking, “What are the opponents of the TV campaign doing to help those homeless children?”- Absolutely nothing.
Despite some criticisms, The US government took the position that best serves the needs of children by implementing numerous TV campaigns and other programs to find homes for so many children. I hope the Korean Human Rights Commission and the leaders of the Korean government would come to their senses and follow the example from the greatest democracy in the world.