About Korea > Adoption, Domestic & Overseas

Domestic Adoption

Domestic Adoption

In recent years, the Korean government has been strongly encouraging Korean families and even singles to adopt children. To some extent, this push has been in response to people, both at home and internationally, becoming aware of the large number children that have been adopted internationally since the mid 1950’s.

Initially, the adopted children were the result of relationships between Korean women and foreign military personnel; while more recently the children are Korean, but the mothers unmarried.

Bi-racial children were un-adoptable in a country that put a high premium of ‘pure’ Korean blood. But, even ‘pure’ Korean children do not easily find adoptive parents among Korean families, in part also for reasons related to the historical importance of blood and family name. Confucianism also plays a role in the reluctance to adopt. During the early years of the Joseon (Chosun) Dynasty, kinship was determined by both sides of the family with both daughters and sons sharing equally in the inheritance.  If a couple had no children, they would adopt either a girl or boy from either side of the family, and sometimes even a non-relative could be adopted and be the heir. After Confucianism achieved dominance, Korean society became patrilineal and the position of women in society and the family was eroded with the elder son becoming the principal heir. If a man had only daughters or no children, he would generally adopt a nephew or other male relative from his father’s side of the family.

Koreans who have adopted in the past, and often still today, keep it secret. Many of the misconceptions and prejudices toward adoption persist to this day. Sometimes relatives are never told and the truth is often kept from the child as well.

Parents who do adopt worry about the social stigma their adoptive children will experience if the fact of their adoption is known. Adoptees are still often seen as inferior; they are often judged more harshly and treated differently than others, while many parents will not permit their child to marry, or even date an adoptee. Some television dramas, even today, will depict adopted children as schemers or troublemakers, who end up harming innocent families.
As mentioned earlier, the status of women changed with the advent of Confucianism and those who could not bear children, especially sons, were considered incomplete, and so her husband could get rid of her and replace her with someone who would bear him a children. It was shameful and embarrassing for a woman to be childless, and this attitude has not completely disappeared from Korean society, even though most people now accept that it is not always the woman’s fault if there are no children or if the children are girls. So, if a couple today decides to adopt, many will move to a new neighbourhood or the woman may go through the whole charade of pretending to be pregnant, even in front of close friends and relatives. Some, according to media stories, have gone so far as to let their parents think that the child that comes along after many years of marriage is the result of an affair rather than that s/he was adopted.

In part to no longer be perceived as a baby-exporting country and also because of a belief that Korean children should be raised in the Korean culture, the government has been waging an aggressive campaign to increase the domestic adoption rate. Regulations have been modified to allow older people and singles to adopt, health benefits incentives and other monetary inducements have been implemented along with various other measures to encourage peoples form all levels of society to adopt. 

That said, since Korea as a society puts a lot of emphasis of conformity - on doing what others do and not doing what others don’t do. So celebrities and other trend setters have been encourage to go public with their own adoptions in the hope that it will encourage others to follow suit. And it has worked, to some extent. There has been an increase in adoption in recent years, and in 2007, for the first time, domestic adoptions outnumbered international ones; in part because more Koreans are adopting, but also because the number of allowed adoptions by foreign parents has been reduced. Girls are more often adopted in Korea than boys (a consequence of persistent patrilineal thinking) while mixed race and disabled children are still rarely chosen.

There is hope that adoption in Korea will become as common as it is in other industrialized countries, but there is also concern that some of the problems that resulted from insufficient follow-up in foreign adoptions in the past, may occur within Korea as well, especially with the relaxed regulations. The main fear on the part of some is that the country is more interested in improving the number, than in the quality of life the children will have. However, there are others, some returned adoptees among them, who affirm that anything is better than growing up where one looks different and where one is isolated from one’s culture and history.

Domestic adoption stats  (Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs)
2006  - 1,332 
2007 -  1,388
2008 -  1,306
2009 -  1,314
2010 -  1,462 ( Of the 8,590 'abandoned' babies/children in 2010, 1,013 were adopted internationally).

A survey conducted in 2010 by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfareshows that of the 1,314 adoptive families in 2009, 40 percent of them had incomes below the national average.

The number of domestic adoptions has not yet increased sufficiently to offset the reduction in allowed international adoptions.The majority of abandoned babies/children enter orphanages at a young age and stay until they age out around age 18.

Additionally, in 2005 there were 19,151 Korean children living in child welfare institutions ( Ministry of Health and Social Welfare).  Ninety-five percent of these institutions housed more than 60 children, and one-fifth house over 120 children.   An additional 10,198 children were in foster care.  Children born to single mothers and children abandoned (presumably many born out of wedlock) make up the majority of children in these institutions

K4E Editor: Korea4Expats.com tries to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and complete, so should you notice any errors or omissions in the content above please contact us at info@korea4expats.com.

Photo by New York Times

Last Updated on 2015-04-13

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