Recently, two major events happened in South Korea that hit world headlines. The first one was about a single mother who put her child up for sale on the Korean form of Craigslist for 200,000 KRW (approx. 175 USD). The media went crazy, and adoption lobbyists staked their claim in justifying her actions because the Korean government has made child registration mandatory, thereby creating an “obstacle” for women to anonymously give their child up. As a result, adoption lobbyists have championed for changing laws in order to make adoption more accessible, and have demanded that mandatory child registration be retracted. The South Korean government sent out a somewhat positive message as they promised to reform support for single parents. However, tackling the issue of how a 27-year-old woman came about to having to resort to listing her child for sale still has not been addressed. The media confirmed that the father was unwilling to take responsibility. However, the following questions remain unasked/unanswered: “Where was her family or at the very least social services, to support her in the helplessness she felt?” “What kinds of resources were at her disposal for her mental health?”
News reports have stated that she resorted to these desperate actions three days after giving birth at a postnatal center, and that she had planned to enter a single mother’s facility after being discharged. It is not difficult to imagine, if even only to some small degree, as to the utter despondency she was experiencing. The lack of societal understanding, the immense amount of stigma surrounding unwed mothers, and the lack of social welfare support to provide her with the financial and mental health resources to be able to care for her child are what pushed her to making this this cry for help. South Korea has been exporting children since 1955 due to social stigmas. It was first due to biracial children who were fathered and abandoned by foreign soldiers during and after the Korean War. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, at the peak of adoptions, it was due to unwed mothers, which to this day remains the main cause of international and domestic adoption in South Korea. When will this structurally change? When will the stigmas surrounding unwed mothers end? When will the preservation of first families be prioritized over a culture that places hiding shame and practicing exclusion as its emphasis?
Then, something so tragic hit the headlines that social media, both in South Korea and around the world, is abuzz with #sorryjeongin, where, Jeong-in, a 16-month-old girl was murdered by her adoptive parents, only eight months after being adopted.
Her injuries were so severe that when SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System) tried to replicate, in their investigative documentary, how she died, only a boxer landing a full heavy blow could achieve the force required to get the degree of pancreatic rupture she had experienced. SBS also showed how the police failed to investigate Jeong-in’s case after several people, including daycare center workers, had filed reports months in advance. Holt Children Services, who were in charge of her adoption, made an official apology, but shirked any form of responsibility stating that they had followed all procedures mandated by the government. There were three house visits, including two that had been immediately conducted after child abuse reports were claimed. According to the Korea JoongAng Daily, Holt only asked the adoptive parents to take better care of the child and made multiple phone calls afterwards for another visit, but were rejected. Holt asked the Gangseo Child Protection Center, which has investigative power, to get involved and take action, but nothing was done. To this day, agencies within the government and private sector continue to point the finger of blame at one another, but for Jeong-in it is all too late—her precious life snuffed out.
As the uproar continued via petitions posted on the website of South Korea’s seat of government—the Blue House—in which demands for a harsher sentencing of the adoptive parents and for someone to be held accountable have been made with more than 200,000 signatures in a day, President Moon Jae-in made a statement.
During his New Year’s press conference he stated in response to a reporter’s question and to the chagrin of many: “Even after adoption, the adoptive parents need to check if the adoption is working out for them. So there should be complementary measures allowing them to cancel the adoption, or if they still want to adopt a child, they should be able to change the child.”
This has resulted in another societal uproar as his comments were streamed live on Youtube, and the majority of people have recognized the fact that exchanging a child in the adoption process is wrong no matter the reason. If an adoption has led to this path even being considered, then there many errors were clearly made from the beginning. President Moon’s party defended his comments stating that they were taken out of context and that he was referring to what those in the States know of as the foster care system.
However, even if this was the case, how could a former human rights lawyer, politician, and the President of South Korea be so inarticulate? Adoptees, adoptive parents, and everyday citizens have been outraged at the mere notion that he could relate a child in an adoption process to a commodity that can be exchanged. All of this has given rise to a campaign started by a small group of adoptees consisting of Allison Park, Cam Lee, Patrick Armstrong, Kevin Omans, Brenna McHugh, Valerie Reilly (graphic designer), Richard Peterson, Sarah Monroe (videographer), and myself (Kara Bos).
None of us are doing this as members of a specific organization. We are individuals who have been brought together under the cause of speaking out against these insensitive comments.
We are each doing our part in trying to open the road to change in the decades-long struggle of securing adoptee rights in South Korea.
We make up the core team that has launched #NotAThing #물건아니야—a social media movement that seeks to create online viral support from all of the parties involved in the adoption process in recognizing adoptees as human beings and not commodities. We aim to use our righteous anger about adoptees being viewed as commodities as the momentum to facilitate and demand an apology from President Moon Jae-in along with a meeting that includes decision-making leaders in his government to collaborate with all of the parties involved to create effective change. We are doing so in the form of creating support for our petition at: www.change.org/wearenotathing.
We recognize that an apology isn’t enough to prevent another horrific tragedy like Jeong-in was cruelly subjected to from happening again, which is why a meeting with President Moon and those who can facilitate structural change is the real reason behind the campaign; thereby, creating an opening that will allow local advocacy groups and adoptee voices be a part of reforming the current adoption system.
The Korea Herald and The Korea Times are both interested in sharing our campaign and in elevating our voices. Online and front-page headlines may bring our campaign to the forefront, but will it be effective? Will it garner enough support to get the attention of President Moon?
As of today, January 27, 2021, we only have 1,100 signatures on our petition. There are more than 200,000 of us spread out around the world, and only 1,100 signatures of support… How can we expect the average person to care about adoptee rights or the fact that we shouldn’t be seen as commodities if even our own don’t support us?
Time is of the essence, so I can only hope and pray as #NotAThing #물건아니야 continues to spread, and as more adoptees and other individuals share and make their own videos of support that the fears of being ignored will be quelled.
Will you please join us in ensuring that current and future adoptees are seen, heard, and protected? Will you help us create an open doorway in ensuring that if an adoption is processed it is done correctly the first and only time?
I would encourage you to not just “like” our movement, but to become our movement by making your own video and letting your voice be heard. Too many of us as adoptees have been silent long enough. Jeong-in had her voice silenced because of the silence of others. Let us raise our voices together and let us be heard, so that no other adoptee is ever silenced again.