05/28/2024, 18.34
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Fewer adoptions, most adopted children born to single mothers

Societal discrimination is pushing single mothers to give their children up for adoption, starting with their family. South Korean single parents are the poorest among OECD countries. International adoptions have been a lucrative business for years; only recently is the situation changing.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – In 2023, 229 South Korean children were adopted, 150 domestically and 79 through international adoption, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. This is a significant drop over the past; for example, 2,464 children were given up for adoption in 2011 alone.

Most children entrusted to other families are children of unwed mothers, who face a lot of discrimination in South Korea.

Almost 73 per cent of the children adopted last year were placed in foster care by single mothers, a figure that, although high, is an improvement compared previous years; in 2018, it was 99.7 per cent, in 2019 100 per cent, in 2020 99.6 per cent, and in 2021 99.5 per cent.

This is despite the fact that South Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world.

In recent years, the government has proposed a wide range of policies to counter the decline in births, from matchmaking events for young people to entice them to get married, to baby bonuses.

Some commentators argue that it might be more useful to support single-parent households.

Single parents in South Korea are the poorest among member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In a 2019 survey of 1,247 single mothers, 42 per cent of respondents said financial hardship was the hardest thing to deal with during pregnancy.

A 2022 study shows that, despite an increase in births out of wedlock, single mothers suffer mainly from the (negative) image of the unwed mother that is imposed on them by society.

Several women pointed out that government support is crucial (such as community homes for single mothers who cannot raise children with their parents or afford to live on their own) but it is often inadequate.

The marginalisation of single mothers usually begins in their own family. According to 2017-18 data, 93 per cent of unwed pregnant women said that they had been pressured to have an abortion or give their child up for adoption right after birth.

Others conceal from colleagues or their employer that they have a child and so give up financial benefits to which they are entitled.

In 2020, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government introduced a 10-day paid leave for single parents, but many women did not take advantage of it.

Similarly, younger girls, in case of pregnancy, feel forced to abandon their studies, sometimes pushed by the school itself, despite a recent law guaranteeing the right of pregnant students to study.

“It’s becoming less stigmatized, but it’s something that creates a lot of challenges for both the mom and the child — societal attitudes,” said Paul Kim, programme director at the nonprofit Holt International in Korea and Mongolia.

“You can change laws tomorrow, but attitudes in society may take decades to change,” he explained. “This is why some children and some moms will not disclose to other people that they are a single parent or they are the child of a single parent — because of the discrimination that can occur.”

In the case of infanticide, the main motivation in most cases between 2013 and 2020 was the “fear of getting pregnant outside of marriage and of making this fact known” to family, friends, and acquaintances.

South Korean society attaches great importance to blood ties and, therefore, frowns upon adoption.

The situation has only recently begun to change, but after the Korean War, which had created so many orphans, thousands of South Korean children were adopted internationally, and this for decades.

Between 2004 and 2021, more than 16,000 South Korean children were adopted, yielding very high profits for the four agencies in South Korea that deal with international foster care.

Between 2018 and 2022 alone, they earned 22.1 billion won (US$ 16.3 million) in commissions for more than 1,180 children, an average of 18.7 million won (US$ 14,000) per child. To which must be added funds allocated by the government.

A new law bans commissions, but it will take effect only next year and apply to domestic adoptions.

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