exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Even fertile parents are deciding to adopt kids


Even fertile parents are deciding to adopt kids

February 16, 2009

Kang Eun-mi, living in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, is happily married with three children: a 12-year-old son and two daughters, one aged six years and the other 17 months.

Kang said she loves all of her children, though only one of them is biologically hers. Kang adopted the two daughters when they were newborns.

“I wanted my son to have siblings,” Kang said. She adopted her two daughters though she was still physically capable of bearing more children, she said. Kang has been open about adoption with her family, relatives and neighbors as well as her two daughters.

“I see them as my own children. Sometimes I’m confused about which one is an adoptee and which one is not,” Kang said.

Kang is one of a growing number of Koreans who choose to adopt a child, in a slow but clear departure from Confucian norms that highly value blood ties and family succession.

There is an old saying in Korea: “One shouldn’t take in a hairy animal.” It literally means that one should never adopt a child. This thinking has resulted in many Koreans orphans being sent abroad.

But as times change, not only are infertile couples adopting, but so too are fertile couples, such as Kang and her husband.

The number of adoption cases in which the adoptive parents already had children was 333 in 2000. The number jumped to 831 by 2007.

Some people have come to believe that not only their biological child but also a child who is not related by blood can be part of their family.

Kim Jeong-ah adopted a son in February 2007; he is now 25 months old. Kim also has a 13-year-old daughter by birth.

“I could never raise another person’s child,” she says, ironically. “I never felt that my son is not my child - because he is my child,” Kim said. “The perception that one’s own biological child can only be his or hers is fading.”

“People are getting out of the patriarchal idea that they need to pass on their name and wealth only through their own biological child,” Kang said.

Han Youn-hee, director of the Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea, said increases in the number of people open to adoption and in the number of children older than infants who are adopted are evidence that people have a more positive attitude toward adoption.

There is also an increasing number of young couples who adopt children.

Kim Hong-rae, 34, and Lee Seol-ah, 34, who live in Siheung,
Gyeonggi, adopted a four-month-old son in October. The two are considered relatively young among adoptive parents. Most parents who adopt are close to age 40.

Lee, who runs a private academy for children, decided to adopt a child though she could have a baby of her own.

“Children in my hagwon told me things that they could not tell their parents,” Lee said. “Looking at parents who can’t understand their own children, I realized giving a child proper care is more important than being a biological mother.”

Adoption agencies have tried to publicly promote adoption and the efforts are bearing fruit. Adoption by celebrities such as the Cha In-pyo and Shin Ae-ra also helped change attitudes about adoption.

The government has helped increase adoptions by offering to pick up part of the tab for medical and child-rearing expenses. Beginning in 2008, the government also started covering fees paid to adoption agencies. To promote adoption, the government has designated May 11 as Adoption Day.

The efforts are paying off.

In 2007, locally adopted Korean children outnumbered those adopted outside the country for the first time in the country’s history. Some 1,388 Korean children were adopted domestically while 1,264 were sent abroad. In the same year, the government gave priority to local adoption by suspending foreign adoption of infants less than five months old.

There is something else that is changing in the local adoption scene. Adoptive parents are becoming more forthcoming about their choice. Until a few years ago, most adoptive parents concealed the fact they adopted a child.

According to Holt Children’s Services, which accounts for 35 percent of local and foreign adoptions of Korean children, as late as 2001 only a quarter of adoptive parents openly discussed their choice with their child, relatives, friends and neighbors. The percentage grew to 57 percent in 2007.

Still, nearly half of all adoptive parents keep the adoption a secret to be hidden from their adopted child and those outside the family.

“They want to hide it forever. They want to protect their adopted kids from potential disadvantages, such as prejudice against adoptees,” said Yoo Hae-yeon, head of Holt One Love. Yoo, 50, has two adopted sons.

“But it’s not possible to hide it forever,” Yoo said.

Kang said she started telling her first daughter that she was an adoptee after she turned three years old. “She first tried to deny it. She was angry and upset. She cried. But eventually she took it to heart,” Kang said. “Now she is comfortable about being an adoptee. She says someday she wants to find her birth mother.”

Despite increased adoption in Korea, the nation still is a top exporter of orphans among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. As of 2007, Korea was the fifth largest exporter of orphans, behind China, Guatemala, Russia and Ethiopia, according to World Partners Adoption Inc.

Korean parents who wish to adopt a child are selective. They prefer girls over boys, and healthy babies over unhealthy ones.

The number of female adoptees has recently exceeded the number of male adoptees in Korea by over a two-to-one margin. Thus, the number of boys adopted out of Korea has always exceeded that of girls.

“People say it is more rewarding, and easier, to raise a girl than a boy,” Yoo said. “Parents are also afraid that boys are difficult to deal with when they get older.”

Inheritance issues have held people back from adopting a son. However, Kang said inheritance was never an issue for her when she decided to adopt two daughters. “We don’t have much wealth,” she said. “And even if we did, we would not pass down it to our children. We want to enjoy life when we get older.”

By Limb Jae-un Staff Reporter [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

2009 Feb 16