S. Korea ba­bies aban­doned in wake of child law

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

SEOUL — The young woman la­bored up the steps, past brightly dec­o­rated walls akin to a child’s nurs­ery, her daugh­ter in her arms. Open­ing a hatch in the wall, she put her inside, turned around and walked away.

She ran her hands over her head but did not look back, sur­veil­lance cam­era footage showed. She may never see the girl again.

South Korea has risen from the ru­ins of war to become Asia’s fourth-largest econ­omy and a mem­ber of the OECD club of de­vel­oped coun­tries.

It was for a time one of the world’s big­gest sources of un­wanted chil­dren, driven by poverty, a light reg­u­la­tory touch, and a cul­ture of racial pu­rity, fam­ily blood­lines and shame.

Around 110,000 South Kore­ans have been adopted to the United States alone since the 1950s but num­bers have fallen in re­cent years.

Birthrates have plum­meted to the world’s low­est with fac­tors such as high child-rear­ing costs and a worka­holic cul­ture af­fect­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

But the num­ber of aban­doned ba­bies has jumped in re­cent years in the wake of a law in­tended to pro­tect chil­dren.

Now more changes are mooted, for sim­i­larly well-in­tended rea­sons, that cam­paign­ers say could make the sit­u­a­tion even worse.

The woman in the video footage was among the lat­est of more than 1,000 to have made their way to a house in a work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood on the out­skirts of Seoul.

Con­verted into a shel­ter by a church, a tem­per­a­ture­con­trolled cham­ber built into the wall func­tions as a baby box, en­abling un­wanted new­borns to be taken in without par­ents hav­ing to iden­tify them­selves.

New ar­rivals — al­most 200 last year, an av­er­age of nearly four a week — are de­posited cov­ered in blood, wrapped in ma­te­rial, some­times with the um­bil­i­cal cord still at­tached.

Pas­tor Lee Jong-rak of the Jusarang Com­mu­nity Church set up the fa­cil­ity af­ter hear­ing re­ports of ba­bies be­ing aban­doned in the open air or in pub­lic re­strooms, where they risked dy­ing of hy­pother­mia.

In 2010, its first year of op­er­a­tions, just four ba­bies were placed in the box.

At the time, South Korean women who wanted to give up un­wanted ba­bies were obliged to give adop­tion agen­cies their writ­ten con­sent, but of­ten gave false de­tails or no records, and oper­a­tors looked the other way.

It’s very hard to strike a bal­ance be­tween re­al­ity and in­ter­na­tional adop­tion norms.” Cho Tae-se­ung, pas­tor with the Jusarang Com­mu­nity Church

But two years later the coun­try adopted a law ban­ning adop­tion agen­cies ac­cept­ing un­doc­u­mented ba­bies, in line with the Hague Con­ven­tion, which aims to give adop­tive chil­dren the right to trace their birth­par­ents. It also re­quired all adop­tions to be court-ap­proved.

Pas­tor Lee’s col­league Cho Tae-se­ung is con­cerned that the reg­u­la­tions re­sult­ing from the con­ven­tion could back­fire by driv­ing women to aban­don un­wanted ba­bies il­lic­itly and dan­ger­ously.

“It’s very hard to strike a bal­ance be­tween re­al­ity and in­ter­na­tional adop­tion norms,” he said.

In­stead the group wants moth­ers to be legally al­lowed to give birth and give up their chil­dren anony­mously.

Next to the hatch in the wall, a form en­ables par­ents to state a child’s name, date of birth, and vac­ci­na­tions.

The mother in the video left it blank.

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