January 30, 2012

Thinking out loud about Jane's response to Voice of Love

I took the liberty of wordsmithing Jane’s comments on this post (which I also posted verbatim here) to put them into a format that makes the tasks at hand really clear – Jane, if I have missed the spirit of any of this, please correct me.
  1. Remove reservations to Article 21a of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which ensures full consent of parents, relatives and legal guardians following appropriate counseling.
  2. Sign the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and the adoption meets the standards of international law. 
  3. Improve women's rights.
  4. Act in the best rights of the child by following the internationally recognized principle of subsidiarity, in descending order of preference based on what serves the needs of the child above all:
    Family preservation (including unmarried single parent families)
    b. Domestic adoption in Korea
    c. Intercountry adoption
  5. Stop including mixed-race and premature children in the category “handicapped”.
  6. Make a concerted effort to develop systems for handicapped children to be supported by their own families.
  7. Create transparent practices and enforce them in Korea.
  8. Close loopholes in the U.S. laws that have left some adoptees without U.S. citizenship.
  9. Ensure that birthfamily can be contacted for medical information (e.g., bone marrow transplant, other serious medical needs) upon adoption and into the future using all possible means, including confirmation that relinquishing parents’ names have not been falsified by themselves or others.
  10. Stop all actions which manipulate, in any way mislead or take advantage of the emotions of relinquishing parents, adopters and adopted individuals.
You will immediately notice a few missing words that began each sentence in the original list: “We are not going to adopt from Korea

Jane is right to challenge prospective adopters in this way. I sadly can’t demand the same from my peers, though, which I know will disappoint no small number of folks. My reasons are personal: For me to advise others not to adopt when I sit here with my family is rank hypocrisy. It also feels, deeply, like a betrayal of my kids, to whom such a statement is sure to say “We shouldn’t have adopted you.

Instead, I can encourage and advise prospective adoptive parents to acknowledge that adoption from Korea isn’t the sterling practice you may have been told it is, and for them to demand truth and transparency throughout the process.  The items on the list below are honest-to-goodness, real-life issues, and you have a right to expect that any adoption agency, in the U.S., Korea or anywhere in the world, is addressing them with their words and actions. If the response you get from a U.S. agency is “we can’t influence Korea’s policies,” then remind them that if they aren’t trying to do just that, they’re part of the problem.

I can also tell prospective adoptive parents that it is their equal responsibility to work on these, and to work on them myself.

I would also add two things to this list that might get lost otherwise:
  • In item 4, we need to place “group homes and institutional care” where we think it belongs. I believe it is 4.d; you might put it at 4.c or even 4.b – heck, maybe even 4.a, depending on the family. Regardless, you get my point, which is that we need to be talking about this. Do you remember the old “Open Mikes?” I did one on this very topic way back when that was followed by an interesting discussion, and would love to do it again focusing on Korean adoption. I think I will.
  • We need to start talking more seriously about expectations and responsibilities for adoptive parents relative to preservation of their children’s genetic family information, protection of their legal status, and support for their ethnic and cultural identity. Since adoption agencies don’t seem to agree on the importance of this, in my opinion we adoptive parents need to teach our own.

January 27, 2012

Jane Jeong Trenka responds to Voice of Love

A couple of days ago I shared my reaction to the Voice of Love campaign that recently kicked off under the direction of Pastor Eddie Byun of the Onnuri English Ministry in Seoul. Several of you left comments on that post and yesterday's - thank you! I'd like to call two of them out here, and will be writing a little more on this subject over the weekend in response to the others.

The first I'd like to note from the Voice of Love post was from Sue G, who articulated something really important:
I hate liberalism that says do not judge culturally relative mores which cause human suffering. We have to draw the lines. We have to cry foul where we see it, in our own cultures and in others too. We just have to or there is no hope.
Adoption isn't the only place we see this, we see it all the time in our country's relationships with other nations that condone human rights.  I believe Korea has the right to determine her own policies, and have been willing to see where that effort goes.  But it has become clearer and clearer to me that Korea's adoption policies discriminate against unmarried mothers, the children of unmarried mothers, handicapped people and mixed race people. Additionally, by sending its children to my country, Korea makes these issues my business. It's time for adoptive parents to cry foul, and stop letting their gratitude for their children get in the way of right thinking.

The second is from Jane Jeong Trenka, one of the most dedicated adoption reformers on the planet. You will know her from her books The Language of Blood and Fugitive Visions: An Adoptee's Return to Korea, her contributions to Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption and other publications, and from her activism with TRACK. Janes's comment provides important feedback about some of the information delivered by the Voice of Love campaign, as well as some of the clearest direction to adoptive parents, especially prospective adoptive parents, on what we can to to change the status quo. I quote it as Jane delivered it, apart from formatting adjustments and the addition of the text of Article 21 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

* * * * * * *

Of those "20,000" "orphans" that that this initiative is talking about, most are older children who've been left in orphanages because of economic hardship or after the divorce of parents.

In late December, MPAK (an organization that promotes the adoption of Korean children to ethnic Koreans in the US and Korea) helped change a law that they have been working on for 15 years that automatically cuts the parental rights of parents who have not parented their children for three years.

The law will not go into effect until next year, so those "20,000" are not even "adoptable" yet.

Moreover, those "20,000" are mostly older children, and as we know, the children of unwed mothers are hot commodities because they are young. So I don't think that most foreign adopters want these orphanage kids anyway. They are school-age kids, up to 18 years old, who are walking around fully speaking Korean and who are culturally fully Korean every day of the week, not just on culture camp day!

These two populations of unwed mothers babies and unwed mothers' babies need to be considered separately. There are some unwed mothers' babies currently in orphanages, but their numbers are far fewer than 20,000.

Instead of working for 15 years to "free" "orphans" for adoption, people should have been working harder for 15 years to encourage FAMILY REUNIFICATION and support for people in economic difficulty, as well as public campaigns for the acceptance of divorced and unwed mothers and blended families (where divorced and remarried people raise their children together). That would be better than the situation where the woman has to get rid of her kids so she can remarry some pigheaded guy who doesn't accept her kids from her previous marriage. She has to marry him because she is economically dependent on men -- she has been dismissed from the workplace for childbearing and has been out of the workforce for years, and can no longer get a job with a living wage and therefore has to attach herself to a wage earner to ensure her own survival, and puts her kids in the orphanage to ensure theirs.

As you see here, orphanages get about $1,000 in govt support per month per child, whereas an unwed mother gets $50 in govt support. It is an upside-down and backwards prioritization. The child's human right is to be kept with his/her mother.

Orphanage directors are happy to get children because they get more money. They have an incentive to take children easily and keep them there in order to maintain a full orphanage and full funding.

In addition, the child support laws are not enforced by the state. Instead, the custodial parent is supposed to duke it out privately with the other parent and make them pay. Needless to say, that system does not work and subjects mothers to more trauma.

Instead of funding and condoning these practices, we need:

1. Better enforcement of deadbeat dad laws.
2. Gov't support for unwed moms/ single parents
3. Orphanages should actively pursue family reunification. Pick up the phone; use the same police family search that adoptees and every other Korean uses when they cannot trace a family member.

PAPs who have the money and therefore the power can be proactive and say:

  1. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you remove reservations to Article 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Korea willingly signed. Do they intend to come into full compliance or not? It has been over 20 years since they signed.

    Added by TM: Jane just alerted me that it's Article 21a, to be precise, that Korea has reservations about.  Text follows:

    States Parties that recognize and/or permit the system of adoption shall ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration and they shall:
    (a) Ensure that the adoption of a child is authorized only by competent authorities who determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures and on the basis of all pertinent and reliable information, that the adoption is permissible in view of the child's status concerning parents, relatives and legal guardians and that, if required, the persons concerned have given their informed consent to the adoption on the basis of such counselling as may be necessary;
  1. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you sign the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and the adoption meets the standards of international law. 

  2. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you improve women's rights.

    Sisters need their own money! Korea ranks consistently at the bottom of the barrel in labor force participation, wage equality, and earned income.

  3. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you show us that you are acting in the best rights of the child by following the internationally recognized principle of subsidiarity: family preservation first, domestic adoption second, int'l adoption third. Walk the talk and put the budget there.

  4. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you stop abusing the category of "handicapped" by including mixed-race and premature babies in that category.

  5. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you make a concerted effort to develop systems for handicapped children to be supported by their own families. 

  6. We are not going to adopt from Korea until you create transparent practices and enforce it on the Korean side.

    Don't be naive Westerners and think that what is on the paper is real! It is just what someone wrote down. There is a big difference.

    How many moms have I met who were counseled to give up their kids for intl adoption SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE they thought it would then be an open adoption? A LOT. How many cases have I heard where the father of the baby was not notified that his baby was going for adoption? A LOT. Doesn't the father have at least the right to know?

  7. We are not going to adopt from Korea until loopholes in the U.S. laws are closed that have left some adoptees without U.S. citizenship.

    That is real solidarity with the same demographic that your adopted kids will belong to.

  8. We are not going to adopt from Korea until we know for certain that birthfamily can be contacted in case our adopted child needs a bone marrow transplant or any information regarding medical problems now or in the future.

    That means you know for sure that both parents can be contacted and the child was not relinquished under a fake name. In order to find Koreans in Korea, you just need their name and citizen ID number. The first 6 digits are the digits of their birthdate. (for ex. mine is 720308, meaning March 8 1972).

    As a recent YouTube animation I saw said, "My mother has the same right to privacy as anyone else. Relinquishing a child did not enroll her in the witness protection program."

  9. We are not going to adopt from Korea until we can feel completely OK about it, instead of kind of troubled and a little robbed and manipulated.

January 26, 2012

Intercountry adoption according to me

I want to talk to the adoptive parents in the house who are struggling with the debate over intercountry adoption. I’m not excluding adopted people and first parents here, but believe that what I have to say on this topic will resonate less, if at all, with you.

If you are the parent of an internationally-adopted child, you undoubtedly love that child so much and care for him or her so tenderly that you cannot imagine why someone would want to deny another child the same, especially if you believe that the only alternative is life in an institution. You see how good intercountry adoption can be, and believe it is the very best we can offer to children in need, here and around the world.

But maybe, like my family, you’ve experienced shoddy adoption practices or even adoption corruption first hand, and it makes you so mad you want to spit, even if your child made it through the experience unbroken. If you haven't, you might be sick of adoption for profit, first parent coercion, trafficking, lack of legal protection for intercountry adoptees, adoptive parent entitlement and apathy, or something else.

I live with both of these conflicting thoughts in my head, all the time.  Some days I tell myself that the only thing that matters is that a family is found for every child, no matter what it takes.  But seldom does that thought linger for long, because I immediately remember that there are reasons those children need families, and that I as an adoptive parent have a responsibility to put those things right

If adoptive parents only speak to the need for families for children, but never the reasons why, we become part of a greater problem, and feed the debate and polarization. I want to be able to honestly promote adoption, but have to know we're on the road to making the following a reality before I can:

  • Adoption is always practiced lawfully, justly and with respect for the rights and voices of the people it separates.
  • Adoption is always practiced lawfully, justly and with respect for the laws and cultures of the placing country.
  • Adoptive parents understand and practice responsibility to their children's ethnic heritage, genetic connections and legal protections.
  • For-profit adoption is outlawed.
  • Laws exist to protect the human and civil rights of first parents and adopted individuals, and they are not excluded from rights enjoyed by the general public (think protection from family separation, adoptee access to original birth certificates, and intercountry adoptee citizenship).
  • All placing and receiving countries ratify the Hague Adoption Convention.
  • Adoption is recognized and accepted as valid care for children when no other option exists, never as a solution to unwanted pregnancy or alternative to abortion. Each of these deserves attention independent of the others.

It's dead easy to sit down at your PC and film 30 seconds of adoption praise. The real work lies in making the list above (which is mine alone, and doesn't reflect everything that needs to be done) a reality.


Speak out on these issues, online and in your real-life adoption communities.  Share information that promotes dialog and reasoned discussion. Contact your legislators about laws that discriminate against adoptees and first parents. Work with other adoptive families to support your children's cultural and community connections. Fight racism.  Don't jump on every pro- or anti-adoption bandwagon that rolls by - think critically about what they stand for, especially whether or not they are fighting root causes of adoption.  Support organizations that fight those root causes: adoptee- and first-parent led organizations, organizations that offer support to families and unmarried mothers, or organizations that fight for legislative reform. Stop using your own or others' positive or negative experiences with adoption to promote one position or another; there's good and bad, accept it, and act accordingly. And never, ever claim the adoption experience as your own; never speak for any adopted person or first parent, or pretend to know what they as individuals or a community think or feel.

Can't do all of this? Who can? Just do one, pick one that you believe you can really do some work on and go for it.

The net of it is to step away from the notion that adoption is all good, accept what's broken, and then do something about it.  I think that's the best possible way any adoptive parent can promote adoption without doing more damage than good.

January 25, 2012

Voice of Love or Love Misled?

It’s all over the internet, particularly the online Korean adoption community: a new campaign urging the Korean government to change its current plan to continue to reduce intercountry adoptions each year until 2016, at which point they will end.

Called Voice of Love, the campaign is led by Onnuri English Ministry pastor Eddie Byun, who is based in Seoul, and Hope for Orphans leader Paul Pennington. The campaign is seeking 30-second videos “describing how Korean adoption has blessed your life,” which the campaign will post on its site to deliver a message to the Korean government that intercountry adoptions should continue.

I’m an adoptive parent, and it is absolutely true that my life has been blessed beyond belief through the adoption of my kids, both of whom are Korean. Life without Sweet Pea and Big Guy? Does not compute, simply does not compute.

I know that had they grown up in a Korean orphanage, it is possible that they would have been denied the educations that are giving them the opportunity to craft solid lives, and that their career choices would have been very limited. Korea isn’t always kind to people who grew up without families and lack a hojeok that makes their lineage clear. I wouldn’t wish that on any child.

So why would I withhold my support for this campaign? Because it is misleading. First of all, the magic word popped up in Paul Pennington’s comments – orphan – which simply does not apply in the context of Korean adoption. The vast majority of people adopted from Korean in recent years, certainly since the 70s, aren’t orphans at all. They are the children of unmarried women or of families who found themselves unable or unwilling to care for them for any number of reasons, poverty being at the top of the list.

The reason there are so many children in orphanages in Korea today is because Korean society rejects and discriminates against unmarried women and their children and does not provide sufficient social support for families in need. If these attitudes were to change, a couple of things would happen more frequently than they’re happening today: unmarried mothers who want to parent would be able to find work without fear of job loss if their single mother status is revealed (as this single mother's testimony demonstrates), and more Koreans in Korea would adopt.

I hate the thought of Korean children growing up in orphanages, because I see my own kids in their faces; it is heartbreaking. I’m therefore no longer going to shy away from the criticism that needs to be made very clear to Koreans in Korea and right here in the U.S.: your attitudes about bloodline simply have to change. Confucianism and lengthy history of family homogeneity are no excuse for the discrimination and downright ugliness that is often directed at mixed race Koreans, unmarried mothers and their children. It is wrong, and you need to change it.

I do not judge the good intentions or good heart of Pastor Byun. But I am saddened that he is using his pulpit, which is clearly supported by a considerable following and considerable resources, to perpetuate the status quo. Adoption from Korea is far more complex than any 30-second video could convey. I’m pretty sure that this campaign will have little effect on the Korean government, but will instead serve to further polarize the already polarized Korean adoption community.

I for one have had enough polarized debate to last a lifetime. I’m ready for change, and urge Pastor Byun and everyone promoting adoption from Korea to direct your energy to the real work: changing discriminatory Korean attitudes toward single mothers, their children and domestic adoption, and improving social services for families in need.

For an adopted person's perspective, read this excellent post by Joy Lieberthal.

January 3, 2012

Coming Home

I'm coming home - let the eyes roll.

I tried an angry blog, and it didn't work. Anger just begot anger, and it didn't get me where I wanted to go, which is to some actual change.

I tried a calm blog, and it didn't work.  I really do want to be calmer about things, but I just couldn't reconcile it with what I see happening in adoption.

This really is it. Really. Probably, anyway.

Gosh, I missed Naksansa!