Monday, October 27, 2014

Returnees Organizing Korea Out of the Intercountry Adoption Industry

Originally written and posted to ISC Solidarity Stories

By Kristin R. Pak

The intercountry adoption (ICA) market is driven by demand from rich countries and commodifies the most vulnerable people. It’s unsustainable as child welfare, and does great harm wherever the market emerges. Realpolitik policies that trade in humans for leverage are unconscionable, but dress them in fateful red thread narratives and a savior aura, and they are not just palatable, but seem magnanimous and altruistic. The marketing and branding of poor children as orphans with no past and no hope for the future started here in South Korea, and has been replicated again and again throughout the (former) second and third worlds. The justifications for UN-regulated human trafficking range from discrimination to poverty to evangelism. Ignored is how little ICA does to address the systemic problems that created poverty, the legal and institutionalized discrimination that force people to the margins of society, and the failed government programs that restrict families to one child. Furthermore, the continuing interference that the west (particularly the United States) perpetrates in the developing world, disrupts traditional communities and livelihoods.

South Korea is still among the top suppliers of children for the ICA industry. SOURCE:

Babies and children are traded in return for money– profits for adoption agencies, hard currency for poor countries, fees for lawyers, revenue for hospitals, and “donation” income for orphanages while at the same time releasing a bit of pressure that these rather-be-forgotten troubles put on a society. Poor families, biracial babies, unwed mothers, addicts and mentally ill patients all should be hidden or gotten rid of in the speediest, most profitable way possible, but only a limited amount can be sent away. We can’t be kept out. Thousands of us are returning every year, demanding the truth. We’re joining in solidarity with others who have stayed to change laws, provide services, and reform society.

Why have some of the 200,000 of us who were sent away to be adopted returning?* Why do we come to visit South Korea in the thousands every year? Why are we in solidarity with unwed and single mothers and families who have lost their children to adoption? We don’t (necessarily) come back to South Korea because our childhoods were bad (although many were horrendous). We come back to learn the truth about what Korea is in a way that only a visit can. We come to find our families and the truth because the adoption agencies constantly lie to us. We choose to live here for extended times to reclaim our mother tongue. We settle here to change Korean society so no more children are separated from their mothers, fathers, histories and personal truths.

And we organize. Adoption Solidarity Korea (ASK), Truth and Reconciliation Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK), and Global Overseas Adoptee Link (GOA’L) were founded by adoptees living in Korea so the thousands who come back every year have a community and support to find their way in Korea and their place in history. We work in solidarity with unwed mothers so families can stay together, despite unjust policies driven by stigmas against the women and their children. We identify as migrants who were forced away from Korea and perhaps compelled to return again as economic refugees or deported Americans, along with the other new face of Korea which is multilingual, multicultural, and more diverse. We hope to transform Korea, and we have the right to do so as Koreans.

Back in the late 1990s the government tried to use us as bridges between our adoptive countries and South Korea. Although I disagree with the assumption that we would automatically feel any obligation to do so, it was clear from the First Lady’s address to us in 1999 that the Blue House was including us in the great Korean diaspora. In our quasi-Korean/foreigner hybridity, we learned tolerance was the least a society owes to its most maligned, even if the right to equality is ignored. We are claiming our birthright as born ROK citizens and making statements about justice and human rights here. Our experiences as foreigners in our adoptive countries and the racism and discrimination that goes along with it has equipped us to fight as citizens even if we have foreigner status on our ARCs.

We had to change laws to get those, too. Although we’re now eligible for F4 visas, which allow us to live in Korea and work (as long as it’s not as a laborer), we had to convince Immigration that we were also overseas Koreans because there was no category for us. You see, we weren’t supposed to return. The marketing worked so well that it became the Truth: we were saved from growing up in a poor country, in poor families. That was the story from the end of the war and continues until 2014. South Korea is now a highly developed country economically, thanks in part to the hard currency we brought in. We were supposed to be fully assimilated into white Christian families and forget we were Korean, grateful for all the West would give to us. Instead, we commit political acts just by living in Korea, by making waves and demanding a change in the laws.

Perhaps because of the returnees like me, Korea will create a template for closing its intercountry adoption program like it has repeatedly promised to do since it was shamed1 as a baby-exporting country. I hope it does, because intercountry adoption is a demand driven industry that hurts Korea. It has retarded the growth of an adequate social welfare state, a major characteristic of a developed society. (We still have childcare facilities, because adoption does not solve child welfare problems.) ICA makes Korea complicit in human trafficking for hard currency it no longer needs. Just as the rest of the world followed Korea’s example into selling away its children, Korea can lead the way out of the ICA industry.

*I use the passive voice here deliberately because the people who were sent for adoption were not the protagonists, but the object of the action.

1”The year 1988 was a turning point in South Korea’s adoption history. The Seoul International Olympics attracted the attention of journalists worldwide about many aspects of Korean culture, and much of thisattention focused on Korea’s primary export: its babies. Journalists like Bryant Gumbel of NBC commented that Korea’s primary export commodity was its babies, and articles like “Babies for Export” (The New York Times) and “Babies for Sale: South Koreans Make Them, Americans Buy Them” (The Progressive), embarrassed the South Korean government. North Korea also criticized South Korea’s adoption program, pointing out that selling its children to Western countries was the ultimate form of capitalism. As a result, the South Korean government delayed the scheduled departure of adopted children before and during the Olympics. And the number of Korean children adopted by American families began to decrease, from over 6,200 in 1986 to just over 1,700 in 1993.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Foreign Koreans in South Korea

When we are abroad, Koreans of the diaspora are seen as assets and opportunity for South Korea. When we return we're liabilities.

South Korea seems to be particularly disconnected from its role in creating the diaspora, and often discriminates against its "foreign" Korean population.

For example, 200,000 of us who live(d) in diaspora were mocked by Saturday Night Live  because of our poor Korean language skills and shallow understanding of Korean "culture." (Which is basically the one that ROK promotes abroad: taekwondo, kimchi, Korean Wave are the extent of Korean culture according to what it promotes overseas.) They of course take no responsibility after sending us out of the country to be adopted to raise hard currency after exploiting and coercing our mothers during the rapid industrialization Yushin period of 1961-1979 through their reproductive and industrial labor.

There's also the 100,000 military wives who are connected to over half of the 1.7 million Korean Americans as the community's immigration as sponsors. However, they're barely mentioned or still a whispered family story, even as the ROK sanctioned and promoted camptowns and keeps renewing the military agreements that keeps US forces in Korea. Their mixed race children are coming back to Korea as ethnic Koreans with foreign passports. Like with almost all populations of Koreans, some of those included in this group were also adopted.

What rights and protections are returning Koreans entitled to as humans and as Koreans? Chinese Koreans, Chosun-jok, are generally looked on warily as illegal workers. Refugees from DPRK are fascinating, but mostly exoticized. Koreans from the former Soviet Union, Koryo-saram, are barely acknowledged. How many Korean Americans are dismissed as Kyopos who don't understand really, Korea? Korean Japanese, the largest overseas Korean community is largely invisible here.
South Korea now has more ethnic Koreans with foreign passports residing in its country than ever before, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Justice.

The data reveals that the number of ethnic Koreans with non-Korean citizenship increased by 24 percent in 2013 as more than 233,000 such people have now found a home on the Korean peninsula. Among the 1.57 million foreigners residing legally in South Korea, 15 percent of them are of Korean descent, according to the Ministry of Justice.

The hike in numbers was driven largely by a steady influx of Korean Chinese immigrants due to the amendment of immigration laws in 2008, which gave Korean Chinese more benefits and rights.

Just four years ago, Korean Americans residing in Korea outnumbered other ethnic Koreans at approximately 31,700 compared to only about 4,800 Korean Chinese. But the Korean Chinese community is now by far larger than the other ethnic Korean segment, with a population of over 150,000.

In fact, a staggering two-thirds of ethnic Koreans residing in South Korea are Korean Chinese. Korean Americans now only make up 19 percent of the ethnic Korean population followed by Koreans from Canada, Australia, Uzbekistan and Russia.

More ethnic Korean immigrants have been relocating to their motherland at a significantly higher rate in recent years as there were only about 50,000 in the country only in 2009. The number rose to 83,825 in 2010, 135,020 in 2011 and 187,616 in 2012 before eclipsing the 200,000-mark for the first time ever.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The other migrants

This article, Rights for Migrant Workers in Korea-NOW!, writes about the Migrant Worker's struggles here in the ROK. It focuses on the poorest, most pathetic segment of the migrants in Korea. Just as in the US no one focuses on the migrants working in Silicon Valley, foreign professors who fill STEM jobs that cannot be filled with native-born talent, or the doctors and nurses from the Global South, pity is used to appeal for human and worker rights here in Korea. There is exploitation among the educated and skilled, and transferred labor is not just the domain of the unskilled. If we can work together we could be much more effective.

English teachers in Korea should also be included in this struggle. They are often exploited, forced to work more without compensation, expected to work injured or sick, and exposed to sexual harassment, etc.

For many adoptees (if they were adopted to one of the approved former British colonies: the US, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand) or the UK itself, teaching English is their only option, locking them into the mercy of the ETI (English teaching industry). 

Although English teachers come from the global north, and presumably have more agency, many of the teachers here in ROK are here because they can't find teaching jobs in their home countries. Another large portion are here to pay off their student loans, so they're essentially in debt bondage to jobs they contractually cannot leave. The Migrant Trade Union has said that English teachers are the #2 filers of complaints with them.

Monday, January 6, 2014

[In-depth interview] adopted, twice abandoned 'ghost man' fall ... International Mia

This MBC story (With video. The quotes from adoptees are subtitled in Korean if you want to hear the originals) is about adoptees who are now living in Korea because they were deported from the US.

Since I can't use the language that was my birthright, I've pasted the (edited) Google Translate transcript below.

China is number one, followed by Ethiopia and Russia. Our country is astonishingly ranked number six. We sent 160,000 babies abroad to be adopted. Among them are a few cases of those twice discard. Anh Da Go reports.

Reporter: Dressed in ragged clothes, the men can be seen roaming the streets. "It's really terrible. Their arms and legs are cut, and their clothes are torn." Most people pass by, ignoring these "living ghosts." "I'm alone. No one knows [me]. Mossi was adopted when he was 2 years old, and returned when he was deported back to Korea at 34 years old. His parents could do nothing because he was not naturalized."If everything is going well, and there had been no adoption, I don't think I would have had no problems." Two years ago a deported adoptee was caught robbing a bank.

The government doesn't know about the immigration status of 20,004 people who were sent to be adopted. Pastor Kim Do Hyun of KoRoot "[the government] should track these cases better. These children had no family..." Adoptees often suffer from identity confusion, the suicide rate and drug addiction is four times higher than average. Laura Klunder "They said we didn't your sister to be lonely. I think they wanted me to be their pet." The government passed new laws about international adoption a year ago. Hwang Pil Gyu, a lawyer at a family law firm says, "Biological parents should raise their own children, but it they can't how can those children be protected? How to ensure the protection of children is a vital question. Of the OECD countries six send children to be adopted. In 2012 only 750 children got children from South Korea.