Why Korea?

Most recently, South Korea has been in the international spotlight since the popular song “Gangnam Style” by singer, PSY went viral in 2012.  Korea is also known for their competitive electronic and automobile manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Kia.  In fact, South Korea’s economy is ranked as the world’s 15th (nominal) and 12th (purchasing power), which grew rapidly since the Korean War stalemate in the early 1960’s and through the 1990’s.  Koreans refer to this growth as the “Miracle on Han River”.  While many people acknowledge the “K-pop” culture and industry, the advanced technology and network capabilities, as well as the business and employment opportunities in Korea, most people do not realize or understand the social and political environment in Korea today.

My interest in Korea stems from my own personal connection as an adoptee.  As I gained insight about Korean history and culture, I came to realize that there are many dynamics which contribute to their social problems.  I don’t know the best place to start but I hope that I can shed light on the current welfare state in Korea through my views and experiences.  Initially, I was concerned about the long history of Korean international adoptions which I have studied prior to my trip here.

In sum, the initial issue for me was that, despite Korea’s economic growth and increased standard of living, the practice of sending orphaned children to foreign countries is still a common practice.  This practice began as a temporary solution to the large number orphaned children from the Korean War, however the rate of adoptions steadily increased, peaking in the 1980’s, and totaling an estimated 160,000 Korean children sent abroad for adoption since 1958.  South Korea is known as the “#1 baby exporter” because of its history as the largest international adoption program and is credited as the birthplace of international adoption with the foundation of Holt International, the largest international adoption agency in the world.  It is considered a national shame by Koreans and many other countries, yet the practice of sending babies for adoption remains common and even encouraged.  This is largely because of the strong stigma that is placed on women who become pregnant out of wedlock which are related to the traditional Confucius values that prevail in Korean society such as gender hierarchies and the emphasis on family units.

As I continue to learn more about Korean history, culture, and societal values and beliefs, I realize that it is not only an issue for Korean adoptees and their birth families, but also an issue involving gender roles and women’s’ rights, parenting practices, families, child welfare, human rights, and Korean culture and societal norms.  The organization that I am completing my advanced field placement with is a non-government organization (NGO) called Korean Unwed Mother’s Support Network. This organization was established in 2007 by Dr. Richard Boas, an American adoptive parent, to provide support, resources, and advocacy for unwed mothers to keep and raise their children in Korea.

The video posted here is an interview with an unwed mother in Korea known as Miss Mamma Mia who founded the Korean Unwed Mothers Families’ Association (KUMFA) which is a group founded by and for unwed mothers in Korea.

KUMSN and Dr. Boas strongly support KUMFA’s activities and goals as well as many others including Korean adoptees, Korean domestic adoption supporters, and other advocates from various interest groups and fields that want to support unwed mothers and their families in Korea.  I hope that this post and video gives a sense of the situation.  It is my future hope that unwed parents and their children will have better lives and be accepted by Korean society at every level.  Empowering unwed mothers to keep their children, changing the role and responsibility of unwed fathers, and normalizing non-traditional family forms in Korea would increase individual rights and equality.  I believe that this must happen before changes in Korean adoption practices can occur.




Video Source:

Interview with a leader from KUMFA (Miss Mamma Mia). [YouTube Video]. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6sIQhREltk

Categories: Field Experience, Human Rights issues, Korean Culture, Other Social Welfare Issues, Social Work, Women's Issues | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Why Korea?

  1. MF

    Great post Katie! One of the things that irks me is when the disparities in rights between individuals in sending and receiving countries is dismissed. I think many Americans would be incensed if they were offered the same government “support” and “choices” offered to unwed mothers in Korea. But for your child’s Korean parent, this is somehow acceptable.

  2. These are important issues, Katie! The lack of support for unwed mothers is not generally framed as a human rights issue in the US. It is great that you are helping to raise awareness.

    I look forward to reading more about your experience! Laura

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