Monday, February 16, 2009

Domestic Adoption in Korea and Elsewhere

From a South Korean newspaper article entitled, "Even Fertile Parents Are Deciding to Adopt Kids":

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.


I wonder if the "same as" narrative is a necessary starting point for any society trying to overcome deep-seated attitudes against adoption -- adoption is the same as building a family through birth; there's no difference between raising a biological child and raising an adopted child. The article certainly seems structured to convey this message.

Or maybe the article is just reporting that these adoptive parents are simply at a common starting point for a lot of evolving adoptive parents -- we start out believing the "same as" narrative until our understanding of our children's loss of their first families leads us to accept the "different from" narrative. (So there will be no confusion, let me say: Yes, I believe that a parent's love for his/her adopted child and for his/her biological child is the same. But a child who experienced the loss of his or her biological family is "different from" a child who has not.)

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that domestic adoption is on the increase in Korea, and that the country intends to end international adoption by 2012. I'm thrilled that Guatemala is encouraging domestic adoption, and that Russia is looking to international adoption as a last resort. I'm especially thrilled by the rise in domestic adoption in China. At least these domestically-adopted children won't experience the loss of culture that international adoption usually brings.

But I hope that other countries relatively new to "modern" domestic adoption (yes, I know many countries have ancient traditions of adoption, so I'm using "modern" adoption to connote the family-building form of adoption over adoption for inheritance purposes, or for labor purposes, etc.) can learn from the mistakes we've made (and are still making, I'm afraid) here in the U.S. (I've posted before about the "too many secrets" approach to U.S. adoption that ruled for decades, and that I think is so poisonous to the parent-child relationship).

I'm certainly encouraged by the openness of adoptive mother, Kang, in talking about adoption with her kids, her family, her neighbors. That contrasts so nicely with the report of another Korean family where the father preferred to let his parents believe that his adopted child was actually his biological child from an extramarital affair! And in China adoptive parents are using a trick not unfamiliar in the U.S. a few decades ago -- pretending a pregnancy and then claiming the adopted child as a biological child.

Maybe there's a different cultural meaning to keeping an adoption a secret in other cultures, maybe I'm guilty of Western paternalism, thinking that "our way" is the best way. But until I see studies to the contrary, I'm going to hope for openness about adoption world-wide!

1 comment:

Mei-ling said...

"adoption is the same as building a family through birth; there's no difference between raising a biological child and raising an adopted child."

Well, that's wrong.

But on a brighter note, I'm also highly encouraged by all this news that countries are trying to increase domestic adoptions.