“Imagine a large river with a high waterfall. At the bottom of this waterfall hundreds of people are working frantically trying to save those who have fallen into the river and have fallen down the waterfall, many of them drowning. As the people along the shore are trying to rescue as many as possible one individual looks up and sees a seemingly never-ending stream of people falling down the waterfall and begins to run upstream. One of other rescuers hollers, “Where are you going? There are so many people that need help here.” To which the man replied, “I’m going upstream to find out why so many people are falling into the river.” Saul Alinsky, in Shelden & Macallair
The Baby Box Film. Here is a link to the trailer for the documentary. I believe that Pastor Jong-rak Lee in the film has good intentions. The Pastor already has adopted many special needs children after having a child himself with special needs. Over time he found that people were trying to abandoned children on his doorstep. He saw a situation and did what he thought was the right answer…build a box. But, like the people “down stream” he is not addressing the issue of what is the root cause of the problem ….it is time for us to move upstream.
The FACTS: Since the creation of the Babybox and the subsequent media attention there has been an increase in child abandonment. The Media attention about the availability of the Babybox, misinformation about the Special Adoption Law in Korea have all factored into the increase in child abandonment. One theory being… “Build it (advertise it, disseminate misinformation and fear) and they will come”. (Special Adoption Law)
The Pastor has claimed that without the Babybox these mothers would kill their children (infanticide). Looking at the facts, there has been no significant changes to the infanticide rates–there have been an increase in abandonment. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare (2013)
Another fact to note is that of the 380 children left at the Drop Box between December 2009 and February 2014 383 children were abandoned but 120 mothers and parents have returned to reclaim their children. (SBS News) Meaning the assumption that these children would have been killed, or that they didn’t have a family is untrue. Instead, what the mothers or family needed in this time of crisis was counseling on alternative options and support instead of a box.
Child Abandonment is a byproduct of the lack of support for Unwed Mothers:
There are cultural and financial factors that lead to child abandonment and a broken systemic system that encourages adoption over family preservation.
Since the 1990’s, over 90% of the children who have been adopted domestically and overseas from Korea have been born to unwed mothers.
This shift happened around 1970, and the government responded by directing funds toward private maternity homes, creating a system where a lack of social welfare left few options for unwed mothers outside of adoption. Meanwhile, the prevalence of adoption relieved the government of needing to come up with a more lasting solution. By the 1980s, the agencies had started engaging themselves in profit-making activities and real estate investments, and were running their own delivery clinics, foster homes and temporary institutions, explains Korean Studies scholar Tobias Hübinette. “Since then, a growing number of maternity homes for young, unwed mothers have been the main source for newborn and healthy babies,” he says.
Meanwhile, the cost of international adoption has steadily Increased. It’s estimated that together the four agencies collect an average of $35 million per year, according to Eleana Kim, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester.
“Adoption policy has become a seemingly permanent solution to what was, at the time, considered an emergency situation. What was supposed to be a humanitarian effort to rescue mixed-race children and war orphans became the largest and longest-running adoption program in the world.” (Culture Muncher)
So how does the environment of unwed mothers differ in South Korea compared to the United States?
This is a graph looking at the birthrate of percentage of unwed mothers in South Korea and the USA compared to the percentage of those children that are then given up for adoption. In 2007, the US 40% of the the live births were to unwed mothers but only 1% of those children are given up for adoption. In Korea, 1.6% of the live births were to unwed mothers but 70% of those children are given up for adoption. It is an interesting look at the different environments for unwed mothers and subsequently the rate of adoption. SOURCE: Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs. US Health and Human Services Department (NY TIMES)
“United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is pushing to eliminate the boxes. The UNCRC claims baby boxes violate children’s right to identify their parents and maintain personal relations with them.“Baby boxes do not operate in the best interest of the child or the mother,” argues Maria Herczog, a sociologist and member of the UNCRC. “They encourage women to give birth in unsafe and life-threatening conditions.” She says the boxes send the wrong message: “Just leave your baby, these boxes seem to say. I don’t think any community could send this message to any vulnerable person.” (Jewish World News)
FAMILY PRESERVATION – Since the 1990’s, over 90% of the children who have been adopted domestically and overseas from Korea have been born to unwed mothers. So how to we support unwed mothers in South Korea?
Increase Financial Support:
- According to a survey conducted in 2013 among unwed mothers, 34% of mothers listed economic hardship as a reason for relinquishing their parental rights.
- Unwed mothers and their children are still widely discriminated against and live in fear of losing their livelihood. Employers have access to family registries that list personal information about their family history. Women that have had children without being married can be fired on the spot.
- Fathers are legally responsible for financially supporting their children. However, the process to collect child support is complex and often is ruled against the mother. According to the Korean Women’s Development institute (2012), a mere 15.6% of the 213 unwed and single mothers respondents received support from their children’s fathers.
- The Government’s priorities for support are the reverse of what they should be under international human rights guidelines. The Government’s rate of support per month is a mere $63.70 per month.
Increase Social Support:
- There is work to be done to change the stigma for unwed mothers and their children. Children are often times ostracized at school and by other parents. “When he was in his first year of elementary school, other children kept asking about rumors they had heard about me being an unwed mom and he became a sort of outcast,” she says. “Other kids were told by their parents not to play with him because he was in an unwed mothers’ home.” (Culture Muncher)
- Increase funding and awareness of the organizations providing POSITIVE changes such as KoRoot, Korean Unwed Mothers Family Association (KUMFA), Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK).
I believe that the priorities for families at risk should be:
(1) Family Preservation
(2) Domestic Adoption
(3) International Adoption
(4) Institutional Care.
PLEASE don’t support this film. If you are inspired to do something about child abandonment in Korea please support these organizations: KoRoot, Korean Unwed Mothers Family Association (KUMFA), Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK).
If you are still interested on more articles here are some great articles to look into.