| By Kim Tong-hyung|
South Korea is among the few industrialized countries that continues to send its children away for overseas adoption.
Since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, about 200,000 Korean children have been adopted by foreign families. And the number of children adopted overseas remains high at over 2,000 per year.
With a growing number of adult adoptees returning to Korea to live and work, their welfare and social acceptance have become a serious issue.
However, public discussions concerning international adoption seem to center on the emotional effects of adoption and the personal stories of the people involved.
The Global Overseas Adoptee’s Link (GOAL), a non-governmental organization established in 1998, attempts to expand these discussions by introducing new issues on the social conditions of Korean adoptees and the difficulties they experience when reconnecting with Korean culture.
The group yesterday began the two-day conference at Konkuk University in eastern Seoul under the title ``Forging a New Community.’’
``We want to recap the past seven years of our group’s operation, present new issues and discuss the social and political aspects of inter-country adoption in Korea. We want to go beyond just family reunions,’’ said Daewon Wenger, secretary general of GOAL, in an interview with The Korea Times.
``Most adoptees grow up in different cultures and develop different mentalities from those in their birth country. When they come back to Korea, they need a lot of support in learning about Korean culture and adjusting to living and working here,’’ said the 38-year-old, who was adopted to Swiss parents at the age of five.
During the conference, a panel of researchers, media officials and civic activists discussed Korea’s policies on international adoption and various issues surrounding the social acceptance of ethnic Koreans in their birth country.
Tobais Hubinette, a researcher at Stockholm University in Sweden, takes a political approach to international adoption in his study, ``International Adoption Between Coloniality and Modernity,’’ conceptualizing it as child trafficking that takes place between supplying countries and the industrialized West. Hubinette uses Korea as a case study, connecting the country’s international adoption to its modernization and methods of social control.
In their paper ``Why International Adoption is Political,’’ activists Tammy Chu, Sarah Dankert and Jae Kauffman, members of the civic group Adoptee Solidarity Korea (ASK), focused on Korea’s existing social welfare system to identify the root causes of why international adoption continues at such a high rate.
Other topics included adoptees adapting to Korean culture, finding employment and representation in the media and popular culture.
``In the past, Korea had relied on international adoption to avoid problems instead of solving them. The lack of a good welfare system to support single mothers and the social perception that separates adoptees from other Koreans are adding to the problem,’’ Wenger said. He also pointed out the lack of a centralized government body and legislative measures to address the problems.
According to Wenger, about 60 Korean adoptees visit the GOAL office in Chungjungro for help or counseling. Although most of them come to Korea in search of their birth parents, an increasing number of adoptees are requesting help to find employment, intending to live and work in their birth country.
``Right now, finding jobs for adoptees, other than as English teachers, is difficult. For adoptees who have been living in non-English-speaking countries, it is very difficult,’’ added Wenger, who mentioned that he is working with officials at the Ministry of Education to create job education programs for adoptees.