Orphans on Children’s Day
By Hannah Kim
In a perfect world, there would be no orphans. Every single one of the world's 2.2 billion children would be doted upon by their parents. And every day would be like May 5 in South Korea when nearly 8 million kids are sure to be spoiled on the national holiday set aside as Children's Day.
But obviously we do not live in a perfect world. There are currently 143-210 million displaced children worldwide, and nearly 15 million who will ``age out" of the adoption system and consequently lose their chances of finding a home. And the excruciating reality is that these kids are innocent victims of social ills induced by adults, which is why we have a communal responsibility to care about it.
In Korea alone, there are nearly 10,000 new-born babies every year who are abandoned for various reasons, and only 3,900 of them are adopted into new homes. One may naively assume there would be very few neglected children in the prosperous modern Korea, or at least none being sent abroad. Inarguably, there has been a declining rate in overseas adoptions in the recent years, but this is only due to a precipitous drop in the Korean birth rate. Still, roughly one of 250 Korean children is adopted into an American family.
As commonly known, the Korean War (1950-53) orphaned thousands of lost children and ``G.I. babies" found themselves out on the streets. Hence since 1955, the Holt International Children's Services and other groups have placed about 150,000 (out of 200,000) Korean children into American homes. It started when Harry and Bertha Holt, a devout Christian couple from Oregon, became concerned for their fate ― after watching a documentary about their plight ― and lobbied Congress for the passage of the Holt bill. As a result they adopted eight Korean children in 1955 when international adoptions were virtually unheard of. The children's arrival garnered media attention, and prompted American families nationwide to seek Korean children.
But what trended as a result of war and poverty morphed into a system that remained even after economic conditions ameliorated. Social norms of Korea's traditional society emphasized paternal family ties, bloodlines, and homogeneity; therefore biracial or fatherless children were not easily accepted, and the stigma associated with single motherhood forced many women to abandon their offspring. Most families (who secretly adopted) chose babies under a month old to pass them off as their own. The concept of ``open adoption'' with sharing information between birth and adoptive families is still an unconventional practice in Korea.
Nonetheless ― and perhaps inspired by to the likes of Madonna and Angelina Jolie who have 'flaunted' their adopted children from Africa and South Asia on the front cover of national tabloid magazines ― Korean society is warming up to the idea of adoption. Each year when the charity photo exhibition titled ``Letters from Angels'' features stars posing with babies available for adoption, almost all of them are adopted. More than 80 celebrities and 150 babies have been photographed since 2003 to promote awareness.
The US Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System approximates there are 510,000 children in foster care (who are temporarily placed in foster homes, group homes, emergency shelters, residential facilities, pre-adoptive homes and with relatives). The good news is that 70 percent of the children leave the system to be reunited with their families or permanently placed with relatives, mostly in less than one year.
The foster care system is not a silver bullet: there are still 114,000 children in the U.S. waiting to be adopted from foster care, with 20,000 children turning 18 annually and no longer eligible. Nevertheless, I agree ``a family within the country, preferably a relative, should be sought before international families'' as dictated by the UNICEF-inspired Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption, and the Korean government should concurrently adopt a better foster care system to prop up its efforts to cease international adoption from Korea in addition to enforcing the domestic Adoption Promotion Law (2009) and other effective means.
Clearly, it is easy to respond numbly and view these figures as mere statistics. But the silent tears of the orphans and grief of the parents who cannot indulge, or let alone care for, their beloved offspring on Children's Day should compel us to coalesce in tackling the roots of the problems that cause the vicious cycles that make orphans out of innocent children.
In a perfect world, children would stay with their biological parents, and remain connected to their roots. Neither adoption nor foster care will solve the underlying issues of war, poverty, disease, famine, and neglect. But each of the 2.2 billion children is precious and deserves a place where they can call home.
Hannah Kim is a 2009 master's graduate at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, specializing in legislative affairs. She spearheaded the passage of the ``Korean War Veterans Recognition Act, U.S. Public Law 111-41," which was signed by President Obama on July 27, 2009. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.