Build Families, Not Boxes: Family Preservation in Korea

Baby boxes have found a resurgence in Korea, and adult adoptees are speaking out against them, saying that abandonment is not a solution when family preservation could and should be the priority.

Statistics indicate that, since the end of the Korean War, between 150,000 to 200,000 Korean infants and children have been adopted from Korea, primarily to the US but also to France, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

They are now the largest group of international adoptees, and the oldest as well, many now in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and older.

These adoptees have thus had a few decades to reflect on their experiences, and are now speaking out in powerful ways. Many have returned to Korea, to search for relatives, to re-connect with their lost culture, and to find out the truth behind their adoptions. Some have moved to Korea, as visitors and as long-term residents.

Many have become active in adoption policies, in a country whose market economy now ranks 15th in the world. International adoptions have declined from Korea in recent years, as adoption laws have changed and adult adoptees’ voices have been better heard. The stigma of “unwed mothers” still exists as one reason for adoption, and that is slowly changing, finally.

That’s not to say that change has been easy, or uncomplicated. There have been many emotions, perspectives, and politics.

The goal of family preservation has to be the priority. Children should stay with their mothers and fathers, if it is safe for them. Also, children grow up. They should have the right to know who they are, the truth of their stories, even if they are adopted–maybe especially if they are adopted.

Around the world, children enter into care leading to adoption in many ways. One is “baby boxes.” These are actual boxes into which babies can be placed, the door then closing and a bell ringing to let the people on the other side know that a baby is there. Baby boxes have been around since medieval times, it turns out, when (it’s safe to say) few social services existed for babies whose parents could not care for them, whether due to social stigma, poverty, or significant medical or other reasons.

The increased use of baby boxes in Korea has become a source of concern, even outrage, for many Korean adult adoptees and their allies.

KoRoot is an organization run by Korean adoptees in Korea that helps adoptees who are returning to Korea. They have a guesthouse, and their staff helps with translation, tours, and more.  They also advocate on adoptee related issues in Korea. Recently, KoRoot has been working together with adult adoptees, unwed mothers, and allies who are committed to the human rights of infants and single mothers. 

Support KoRoot’s efforts to build awareness and families: not baby boxes. From their Facebook page:

We believe that every person has the right to family, and that we have a responsibility to help preserve families that are targeted by economic and social injustices. Moreover, we are distraught by the media’s celebration of the Baby Box as a humanitarian effort, while the fight for family preservation led by unwed mothers and adult adoptees has been overlooked.

How can you help?

KoRoot invites you to participate in our #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes social media takeover on Wednesday, January 22, Seoul, South Korea.

We’re raising the question: How do you define family? Share your story at #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes.”

Please also support the important work of the Korean Unwed Mothers’ Families Association, which advocates for the rights of unwed pregnant women, unwed mothers and their children in Korea. KUMFA’s goal is to enable Korean women to have sufficient resources and support to keep their babies if they choose, and thrive in Korean society. KUMFA was founded by and for unwed mothers themselves.

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