It took over 15 years to accomplish this in Korea, and the dream has finally been achieved at last.
The Korean National Assembly has just passed a new bill yesterday (December 29, 2011) that would allow more children to be available for adoption by terminating the parental rights. The new law allows the following: 1) The termination of parental rights to those parents that have given up their parental relationship with their children for three years, especially those children in 280 institutions in Korea, 2) Termination of parental rights for those parents that abuse or neglect their children or unfit to raise them, and 3) That all adoption decisions will be handled by the Children's Court, and that any adoption disruptions must go through a due process of the law through the Children's Court.
Also, the law raised the adoptable age of a minor from 15 to 18. This new law will go into effect on July 1, 2013.
Up to now, the knowledge that an orphan has been registered into a family after the birth disqualified children from being available for adoption. This for fear that somewhere in Korea may live a parent of an orphan, and that parent may someday come back to reclaim the child. Currently only the children that have been officially relinquished by their birthmothers, or by the orphanage directors who could sign the relinquishment papers for those children that didn't have any birth registry records, were allowed to be adopted.
Over the years, thousands of children had to grow up into their adulthood as orphans because of their family registry binded them into the families that weren't there for them. For example, a child is born and the birth family registers the child into the family. But due to various reasons such as economic hardship or marital conflict, the birth parents decide to put the child into an orphanage, promising that they will someday come back to reclaim the child if their economic or marriage conditions improve. It is typical that the child will never hear from the birth parents again. The child has been physically abandoned, but not adoptable due to the fact that he was registered into a family, and due to a fact that somewhere there is a birth parent in Korea that might one day come back to reclaim the child. In the mean time the child grows up in the orphanage, and never once visited or contacted by his birth parent, and is forced out of the orphanage when he turns 18. I cannot forget a comment by an orphanage director who really cared for her children. She said, “The fact that there are birth parents living somewhere in Korea has been the most detrimental to children’s rights to grow up in homes.”
This is a very typical scenario of most of the orphans in Korea. While many parents promise to take their children back once their condition at home improve, in truth they have abandoned their children completely. I have been told around 80% of the orphans living in various institutions fall into this category. Now the orphans will have chance to have families of their own. Thanks to the new law that was just passed.
I mentioned at the beginning that it took 15 years to accomplish this. I first mentioned this issue to the visiting Korea Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) officials at the KAAN Conference in 1997 held at Los Angeles using a message written on a piece of paper. While the Ministry went through many personnel changes, I never failed to mention this again and again and again each time I visited Korea. I talked with my MPAK members, and talked with a few professors and a few lawmakers as well. MPAK has been at the forefront to push for this change for the past 15 years.
In the year 2000, at the very first MPAK National Conference to Promote Domestic Adoption in Korea, we at MPAK put together the Ten Propositions to the Korean Government improve the domestic adoption in Korea ( 대정부건의안). As of today, nine of those propositions came true. One of them was the establishment of the National Adoption Day, which became reality in 2006, and yesterday’s passage on the termination of parental rights became our ninth proposition that became reality. I will post in another blog what the other eight propositions were.
I would like to give a special thanks to Mrs. Han, Youn Hee of MPAK Korea president who shared this same vision and pushed for this many years, and to all the MPAK members who worked as one body to be a voice for so many voiceless children in Korea. While the three years wait before the parental rights termination is still too long (whereas in the US depending on states the wait is between six to 15 months), nevertheless it is a start.
I would also like to thank all the adoption agencies that shared the same values and saw the needs of many children and came to their rescue time and time again despite all the criticisms they had to endure over the years.