Returnees Organizing Korea Out of the Intercountry Adoption Industry

By Kristin R. Pak

The intercountry adoption (ICA) market is driven by demand from rich countries and commodifies the most vulnerable people. It’s unsustainable as child welfare, and does great harm wherever the market emerges.  Realpolitik policies that trade in humans for leverage are unconscionable, but dress them in fateful red thread narratives and a savior aura, and they are  not just palatable, but seem magnanimous and altruistic. The marketing and branding of poor children as orphans with no past and no hope for the future started here in South Korea, and has been replicated again and again throughout the (former) second and third worlds. The justifications for UN-regulated human trafficking range from discrimination to poverty to evangelism. Ignored is how little ICA does to address the systemic problems that created poverty, the legal and institutionalized discrimination that force people to the margins of society, and the failed government programs that restrict families to one child. Furthermore, the continuing interference that the west (particularly the United States) perpetrates in the developing world, disrupts traditional communities and livelihoods.

South Korea is still among the top suppliers of children for the ICA industry. SOURCE: http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/adoptionstatsintl.html

Babies and children are traded in return for money– profits for adoption agencies, hard currency for poor countries, fees for lawyers, revenue for hospitals, and “donation” income for orphanages while at the same time releasing a bit of pressure that these rather-be-forgotten troubles put on a society. Poor families, biracial babies, unwed mothers, addicts and mentally ill patients all should be hidden or gotten rid of in the speediest, most profitable way possible, but only a limited amount can be sent away.  We can’t be kept out. Thousands of us are returning every year, demanding the truth. We’re joining in solidarity with others who have stayed to change laws, provide services, and reform society.

Why have some of the 200,000 of us who were sent away to be adopted returning?* Why do we come to visit South Korea in the thousands every year? Why are we in solidarity with unwed and single mothers and families who have lost their children to adoption? We don’t (necessarily) come back to South Korea because our childhoods were bad (although many were horrendous). We come back to learn the truth about what Korea is in a way that only a visit can. We come to find our families and the truth because the adoption agencies constantly lie to us. We choose to live here for extended times to reclaim our mother tongue. We settle here to change Korean society so no more children are separated from their mothers, fathers, histories and personal truths.

And we organize. Adoption Solidarity Korea (ASK), Truth and Reconciliation Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK), and Global Overseas Adoptee Link (GOA’L) were founded by adoptees living in Korea so the thousands who come back every year have a community and support to find their way in Korea and their place in history. We work in solidarity with unwed mothers so families can stay together, despite unjust policies driven by stigmas against the women and their children. We identify as migrants who were forced away from Korea and perhaps compelled to return again as economic refugees or deported Americans, along with the other new face of Korea which is multilingual, multicultural, and more diverse. We hope to transform Korea, and we have the right to do so as Koreans.

Back in the late 1990s the government tried to use us as bridges between our adoptive countries and South Korea. Although I disagree with the assumption that we would automatically feel any obligation to do so, it was clear from the First Lady’s address to us in 1999 that the Blue House was including us in the great Korean diaspora. In our quasi-Korean/foreigner hybridity, we learned tolerance was the least a society owes to its most maligned, even if the right to equality is ignored. We are claiming our birthright as born ROK citizens and making statements about justice and human rights here. Our experiences as foreigners in our adoptive countries and the racism and discrimination that goes along with it has equipped us to fight as citizens even if we have foreigner status on our ARCs.

We had to change laws to get those, too. Although we’re now eligible for F4 visas, which allow us to live in Korea and work (as long as it’s not as a laborer), we had to convince Immigration that we were also overseas Koreans because there was no category for us. You see, we weren’t supposed to return. The marketing worked so well that it became the Truth: we were saved from growing up in a poor country, in poor families. That was the story from the end of the war and continues until 2014. South Korea is now a highly developed country economically, thanks in part to the hard currency we brought in. We were supposed to be fully assimilated into white Christian families and forget we were Korean, grateful for all the West would give to us. Instead, we commit political acts just by living in Korea, by making waves and demanding a change in the laws.

157,796 Adopted Koreans

Although 200,000 is now the generally accepted number of Koreans who were sent out of the country to be adopted, this graph shows a lower number perhaps due to rounding, adoptions that were done outside the established system, and the age of the source data. SOURCE: http://jjtrenka.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/fifty-years-of-korean-adoption-is-enough/

Perhaps because of the returnees like me, Korea will create a template for closing its intercountry adoption program like it has repeatedly promised to do since it was shamed1 as a baby-exporting country. I hope it does, because intercountry adoption is a demand driven industry that hurts Korea. It has retarded the growth of an adequate social welfare state, a major characteristic of a developed society. (We still have childcare facilities, because adoption does not solve child welfare problems.) ICA makes Korea complicit in human trafficking for hard currency it no longer needs. Just as the rest of the world followed Korea’s example into selling away its children, Korea can lead the way out of the ICA industry.


*I use the passive voice here deliberately because the people who were sent for adoption were not the protagonists, but the object of the action.

1”The year 1988 was a turning point in South Korea’s adoption history. The Seoul International Olympics attracted the attention of journalists worldwide about many aspects of Korean culture, and much of thisattention focused on Korea’s primary export: its babies. Journalists like Bryant Gumbel of NBC commented that Korea’s primary export commodity was its babies, and articles like “Babies for Export” (The New York Times) and “Babies for Sale: South Koreans Make Them, Americans Buy Them” (The Progressive), embarrassed the South Korean government. North Korea also criticized South Korea’s adoption program, pointing out that selling its children to Western countries was the ultimate form of capitalism. As a result, the South Korean government delayed the scheduled departure of adopted children before and during the Olympics. And the number of Korean children adopted by American families began to decrease, from over 6,200 in 1986 to just over 1,700 in 1993. http://www.pbs.org/pov/firstpersonplural/history_southkorea.php

Demonstrations Continue in Protest of NIS, Government

Demonstrations were held in Seoul and other cities over the weekend in protest of NIS intervention in last year’s elections. Many are unhappy with the government’s continued stance of non-involvement as well as their continued attempts to divert public attention away from the issue.

During the open mic, many spoke about the contrast between prosecution times for the NIS and that of Lee Seok-Gi, a lawmaker of the Unified Progressive Party, who was recently charged with allegations of conspiring to stage a rebellion in support of North Korea. The National Assembly voted with an overwhelming majority to have Lee’s parliamentary immunity waived.

The UPP and many others believe the allegations were made in order to distract the public from the NIS issue.

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battered but Unbroken – a Poem

by Kellyn Gross

being battered but Unbroken

being battered but Unbroken is presence

standing at the squat pedestal of bygone King Sejong

standing on two feet in defiance of police protecting the Stars and Stripes

while some are wheelchair-bound

affirming that you don’t need to be able to stand

to stand for something

where badged spokesmen warn through megaphones to let bygones be bygones

under an altar of 300 Korean martyrs to the cause of social justice

their captured smiles in the muggy heat

burnt incense and sobs breaking silence

being battered but Unbroken is remembrance

unity in view of Bugak Mountain

where tigers once roamed in this granite fortress

protectors of the dead

ancient animal symbols of reverence and the summer sun

that gives way to monsoon rains in June

feared creatures by Hanseong citizens whose shamans called upon mountain deities

to banish them

only to be displaced dynasties later by the rains of empire and enterprise

protectors of capital

being battered but Unbroken is belonging

whether Korean  Egyptian  Libyan

Syrian  Greek  Turkish  Brazilian

confronting shady deals  disorder  destitution

brutality  austerity  shopping malls

World Cups where the World’s Poor are cast aside

the oppressed on all continents solemnly vowing an end to suffering no matter the threats

no matter the rubber bullets  real-deal bullets   bombs and concrete prisons

there will be days of revolution

there will be nights of camaraderie and candor

being battered but Unbroken is power

not the ascendancy of Park Geun Hye or the lasting legacy of Gaddafi

not the brutality of al-Assad or the hegemony of Erdogan

but the prerogative of the people

when enough is enough

and a wave of disillusionment flows in

IMF refugees dismantling despotism

burdened hearts sloughing off layers of fear  exploitation  abuse

unmasking injustice

reclaiming space for healing and renewal

being battered but Unbroken is declaration

toojaeng shouted in Gwanghwamun Plaza

Turk istiklalini graffitied in Taksim Square

vem pra rua chanted in Sao Paulo’s streets

the spectacle of terror forced into a dialectic with reality

because this is bigger than any evening news program

yet the Dictator’s Daughter still promises economic democratization

and the Duck from Damascus declares that he rules by the will of the people

but citizens won’t be duped by lies  or cowed by tear gas and stun grenades

their bloodshed by free trade and autocracy is testimony enough

being battered but Unbroken is sustenance

a daughter bound for Seoul City Hall in 1919  in 1960  in 1980  in 1987

her mother wondering if she’s eaten before she takes to the streets

the minjung movement of conscience with action

transformation in the factories and in the shanty towns

underground theoretics giving purpose  deriving meaning

men chewing melon and sipping raki at round-table discussions in Ankara

hungry souls who mention that police will shoot people down like stray dogs

dehumanized and lionized in the same breath

they say the pain is worth the dignity any day

being battered but Unbroken is hope

Hyundai workers atop 50-meter pylons  han at life’s core

struggling and yet envisioning a just horizon beyond dispatch employment

Greek public servants on a 24-hour strike  debt servitude to the troika

halting flights to offices in D. C.  in Frankfurt   in Luxembourg

societies sold to the highest bidder

societies torn down and awaiting rebirth

but the people  battered but Unbroken

they have spoken

South Korean workers fight to Stop Ssangyong Motor Worker Deaths- VIDEO

From youtube:

With extreme repressive force by the South Korean government to suppress what had been a peaceful sit-in strike asking for dialogue over alternatives to mass redundancy dismissals at Ssangyong Motor in 2009,
-some 3000 workers were pushed out of the plant by restructuring and disciplinary dismissal,
-over 100 workers imprisoned, with strike leader Han Sang Kyun still imprisoned today and
-now 22 suicides and other early deaths among the Ssangyong Motor worker and family members affected by the illegitimate mass redundancy dismissals, which the company justified by doctoring its accounting books.

Though Indian transnational corporation MAHINDRA, which has taken over Ssangyong Motor, has the power to stop a 23rd death from arising, Mahindra has made no real effort to resolve the issue of the Ssangyong Motor dismissed workers.

The Ssangyong Motor workers’ struggle continues!

Korean University Students Demand Accountability in Election Scandal- VIDEO

대학생들-민주주의 유린한 국정원 폐지하고 박근혜는 하야하라 기습시위후 연행

Students call for an investigation into election tampering by the National Intelligence Service and former director Won Sei-Hoon, who is indicated on charges of ordering a smear campaign against opposition candidates in last year’s election. Many are disappointed in the Park administration’s lack of a strong stance against the allegations and in maintaining non-involvement in the issue. According to The Hankyoreh, one Saenuri official has been quoted as saying:

“Principle, trust, and following the law are supposed to be President Park’s trademark. Now that the prosecutors have finished their investigation, the President has a responsibility to follow the Constitution and national law by apologizing to the public for the NIS’s misdeeds and taking steps to make sure such things don’t happen again. It is irresponsible for her and the Blue to play dumb on such a major incident.”

Cover photo courtesy of The Hankyoreh online newspaper

정택용작가의 사진으로 보는 [쌍용차 해고자, 자동차를 만들다 H-20000 프로젝트] Ssangyong Auto Workers Struggle- VIDEO

Laid off Ssangyong Auto workers currently demanding reinstatement and an end to mass layoffs assemble 20,000 auto parts – funded by 20,000 supporters – into the H(heart) 20000

“쌍용차 해고자, 자동차를 만들다 

H-20000 프로젝트

삶을 파괴하는 정리해고에 맞서 옹근 4년의 시간을 싸웠습니다.
국가와 회사, 이제는 그들이 답해야 합니다.

기획된 정리해고의 올무에 걸려 공장에서 내팽겨진
모든 이들과 
우리 곁을 떠난 스물 네 분 그리고 그 가족의 명예 회복을 더는 미룰 수 없습니다.




’국.정.조.사’가 그 시작입니다.




4년간의 정리해고 싸움에도 녹슬지 않은 손으로
쌍용차 해고노동자들이 
4년 만에 다시 자동차를 만듭니다.

시민들이 후원한 살점 같은 2만 개의 부품이 모여 
세상에서 단 하나뿐인,
기계가 아닌 인간의 자동차가 만들어 집니다.

6월초 조립이 완료된 자동차의 외장을 미술작가들과 전문가들이 작업을 하지만,
외관은 공개하지 않습니다. 

참여한 시민들과 함께 서울광장에서 모터쇼를 합니다.
이날 자동차 기증대상자를 선정한 뒤 자동차 키를 인계합니다.
이때 자동차가 최초로 공개됩니다.




6월 7일 서울광장으로 모이자!
4시 북바자/사진전/밥나누기
7시 쌍용차 해고자, 자동차를 만들다 H-20000 모터쇼




2만 개의 부품을 구입해 주세요
hope.jinbo.net”

“함께 살자! 희망지킴이”

Resolution to Struggle: a Declaration for Human Liberation

Translated from the 22nd Commemoration Ceremony for Martyrs and Victims for the Nation and Democracy  June 8, 2013, Seoul, South Korea

Since the time of the Gabo (Tonghak) Peasant Revolution[i] through Japanese colonial rule and then military dictatorship until today in the 21st century, the worker’s and people’s progressive social transformation movement has continuously been marching towards national and social liberation. Our martyrs have always been at the frontlines sacrificing their lives.

Our martyr’s frontline struggles have always lent great moral authority to the workers and peoples[ii] struggles. Unlike the few who ruled for their interests, the noble deeds of our martyrs were dedicated to the progress of society and history.

Yet, the noble struggle of our martyrs should also serve as a model for our own day-to-day living – to maintain self-giving behavior for the progress of society and history no matter how large or small the struggle – so that their deaths would not have been in vain. The martyrs have inspired and urged us to work unceasingly towards a liberated world where we can live as human beings.

In this 22nd commemoration, we face a period of intensifying global contradictions between capital and working people and between empires and small and weak nations brought about by the recession of this century. In far away Europe, worker’s struggles in Greece and Spain have burst forth in a blaze, and its flames are expanding towards Asia’s Turkey. Imperialism’s reckless attacks on small and weak countries in North Africa, Libya and Mali are spreading to Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.

Jeju protestersOur land is also thus affected. Within the reality of an ever more permanent US Wartime Operational Control[iii] and the ROK-US Combined Forces Command, the Key Resolve/Foal Eagle war games continue year after year; the threat of nuclear attack persists with the mobilization of B-2, F-22, nuclear-powered aircraft super carrier USS Nimitz, and state-of-the-art weapons; economic sanctions choke the North Korean people; and villagers are pushed out of Gangjeong Village in Jeju Island to make room for a naval base.

Faced with a crisis, our land’s government and capital attempts to overcome capital’s crisis by more severely repressing workers and working people. President Park Geun Hye’s campaign promises of economic democratization are nowhere to be found and in its stead is economic growth as the cure all. In response, a people and youth, trapped in despair, are taking their own lives.

Ssanyoung autoUnder a false legal government take-over of Ssanyong Auto, workers were violently expelled from the factory. Now, one by one Ssanyong Auto’s accounting manipulation and fabrications are being exposed. 4 years later, 24 Ssanyong Auto workers have taken their own lives. Despite 171 days of high-altitude occupation on top of an electric pylon, the issue still remains unresolved. The presidential campaign promises for a national governmental investigation into Ssanyong Auto are quickly revealing themselves empty promises.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling that employment of in-house subcontracted workers[iv] is illegal and mandating a switch to regular worker status,[v] Hyundai Motors has not budged. As a result, Hyundai irregular workers are continuing on their high altitude occupation of a high voltage electric pylon for over 6 months. The basic worker rights of public workers and teachers are also being threatened. And for the nearly 90 percent of workers who are employed as irregular workers in small-medium, and small-scale (5-10 employees) enterprises, their basic rights as workers are completely denied. In this way the rights of workers are being completely deprived by the dictatorship of the capitalist class.

The tyranny of capital and the government is not only attacking wage workers but also farmers and the urban poor. Farmers are becoming the rural poor and the urban poor are stripped of their rights to feed and clothe themselves through work as street vendors. On the other hand, the rights of people to a home are being trampled on for the sake of capital’s real estate speculation. Due to the avarice of monopoly capitalists even the existence of small-business people is being threatened.

Workers and people’s livelihood and civil rights are being threatened, deprived, and denied. Within this context, democracy is being replaced with maintaining public peace and order[vi]. Immediately after coming into office, Park Geun Hye administration violently expelled workers and farmers from their peaceful occupations. The government, through the police, prosecution, and National Intelligence Service creates incidents of public peace and order to repress the people’s movements. The first 100 days of the current regime has been referred to as the “Lee Myung Bak Geun Hye”[vii] regime.

24 years ago, breaking through the Roh Tae Woo administration’s efforts to corral and isolate us and while clutching the photos of our martyrs, amidst tear gas, we held the first ever commemoration for the martyrs and victims for our nation and democracy. Now, looking back at our workers and people’s living conditions and the current state of our movements, we cannot but humbly acknowledge our inadequacy in carrying on and fulfilling the noble sacrifices our martyrs made to create a world of human liberation. Henceforth, in the occasion of the 22nd National Commemoration, as we remember each of the lives and struggles of the approximately 600 martyrs and victims for our nation and democracy, we re-examine and straighten our own selves up and rededicate ourselves. Above all, imbued with the noble spirit of those martyrs that sacrificed it all to realize true democracy, self-determination, and reunification[viii] and build a world of worker’s and human liberation, we commit to overcoming our divisions and building a strong and unified struggle. Together, we resolve to go out and struggle true to our progressive transformation movement’s great cause, untouched by reformism and careerism.

June 8, 2013

22nd Commemoration Ceremony for the Martyrs and Victims for Our Nation and Democracy


[i] A Peasant’s Revolution in 1894 calling for equality of all against the injustices of the ruling class.

[ii] In this case “people” refers to the “common people,” the other oppressed groups in society such as farmers, the disabled, the urban poor, etc.

[iii] During “wartime,” operational control of the US ROK Combined Forces Command is held by the US. The first date for the transfer of wartime operational control from the US to South Korea was 2012, which has been postponed to 2015.

[iv] Workers that while they do the same job as factory employees under the company payroll, nonetheless, are treated differently as they are hired not by the company but through a subcontracting company.

[v] Regular workers are those hired directly by the company and do not work on a contract basis.

[vi] During Korea’s period of dictatorship and even afterwards, peace and public safety have been used as pretexts to severely repress movements calling for democratization, worker’s rights, peace, and reunification.

[vii] Lee Myung Bak Geun Hye is a play on the fact that in Korean both Lee Myung Bak and Park Geun Hye share the Bak/Park (which in Korean is written the same way), Lee Myung Bak as the second syllable to his first name and Park Geun Hye as her last name. This is to point out that Park Geun Hye’s administration is merely a continuation of Lee Myung Bak’s.

[viii] In Korean, self-determination and reunification are combined into one word as an indication of their inseparable nature.