America's adoption reality
In 2010, 98 children were sent from Korea to Canada for adoption, making Korea the seventh-largest supplier of children to Canada. China was the largest supplier, with 472 children sent, followed by Haiti with 172. And can you guess who the third-largest supplier was? It was the United States, which sent 148 children to Canada.
For 60 years, Koreans have believed in the American dream, and we have sent our children there thinking that it is better for them. In 2011, we sent a total of 916 children abroad, 707 of them to the U.S.
But OECD statistics show that the child poverty rate in the U.S. is nearly double that of Korea, with 20.6 percent of American children living in poverty, as opposed to only 10.5 percent in Korea.
Moreover, there were 400,540 children separated from their parents and living in the U.S. foster care system in 2011. Of these children, 104,236 were eligible and waiting for adoption, and another 58,000 lived in institutions.
On the other hand, there were only 16,523 Korean children living in institutions at the end of 2011, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
So why do we insist on sending our children away to live with foreigners? Who brainwashed us into believing that everything is better in America?
When Holt came to Korea, we thought they came from heaven, but really, they came from Oregon, and their business has done nothing to help the American children in their own backyard.
Holt’s slogan is “Every child deserves a family.” Yet in Holt’s home state, there are 8,000 children who live in state-run foster care, with 200 waiting to be adopted. Why can’t Holt fix American problems first?
In the U.S. state of Minnesota, where I grew up as one of about 15,000 Korean adoptees in that state, Eastern Social Welfare is now the main supplier of Korean children to American adopters. Yet 97 American children are now waiting to be adopted there.
While Americans have been decrying Russia’s ban on adoptions to the U.S., there are twice as many children waiting to be adopted in just Minnesota as there are in the Russian “pipeline.” There were 46 Russians approved to be adopted, as opposed to 97 Minnesotans who are still waiting for someone to want them. And frankly, those American kids are 10 times cheaper than a Russian. While an adoption from U.S. state-run foster care costs an average of less than $5,000, the average cost to adopt one Russian child was $50,000.
So why don’t Americans adopt more American children? Private adoption agencies meet the desires of consumers for children based on criteria such as age, race, medical history, and whether there are ties to family. Since it is nearly impossible to maintain ties with a family of origin in an international adoption, Americans find it attractive. In other words, it is the scar of the child’s amputation from her family of origin that is valued.
The Joint Council on International Children’s Service ― an American trade association for adoption agencies ― has called the Russian ban a “tragedy.” Is it a humanitarian tragedy for the children, or an economic tragedy for their members’ businesses? In 2011, there were 962 adoptions to the U.S. from Russia. If we estimate that 2013 would have been similar in numbers of children adopted, we can calculate that they have just lost $48.1 million because of the ban. It is enough to close some agencies.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution expressing its disappointment over the ban on Russian adoptions specifically to the U.S. (Other countries may continue to adopt Russian children.) Yet the Senate has made no resolution expressing its regret over the deaths of 19 Russian children who were abused or neglected to death by their American adopters. And the Senate has made no statement of regret about the 29,000 American youth “age out” of foster care every year because no one wants them.
Among American youth who come into adulthood without families, 25 percent do not have a high school diploma or GED. Only six percent graduate from college, even though 70 percent of all youth in foster care have the desire to attend college. Forty percent are homeless or live temporarily in other people’s homes. Sixty percent of young men are convicted of a crime. Less than half are employed. Seventy-five percent of women and 33 percent of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs. Half are involved in substance use, and 17 percent of women are pregnant. Moreover, it is common for foster care children to be sexually abused either by adults or other children.
That is the American reality.
Meanwhile, Korean children, who go for an average of $38,000 each, generated about $27 million in the Korea-U.S. international adoption economy in 2011. What do we call the exchange of such huge money for babies? Is it love born under the heart ― or is it something else?
Korean adoption agencies owe American children an apology. For every child they send there, they steal a potential home from an American child. How sorry they should be for hurting American children in that way and for being complicit in the lie that international adoption ― in the way that it is currently practiced ― is a service that puts children’s needs in any country first.
Jane Jeong Trenka is author of the memoirs ''The Language of Blood and Fugitive Visions,’’ and co-editor of the anthology ''Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption.’’ She is studying for a master’s degree in public policy at Seoul National University while volunteering as president of TRACK (Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea).