Seoul, South Korea – Amidst the financial prosperity and economic abundance that South Korea is now enjoying, birth rates are plummeting due to a workaholic culture as well as the high costs of taking care of a child. And despite the enactment of a law that was designed to protect children, newborn abandonment rates are steadily rising in South Korea.
Some babies were covered in blood, with the umbilical cord still attached
In the outskirts of Seoul lies a house that has since taken in over 1,000 abandoned babies. The home was converted into a shelter by a church in Seoul, and is equipped with a ‘baby box’ on the wall, which allows parents to leave their unwanted newborns without having to expose their identity.
Just last year, over 200 babies were taken to the home, some of them still covered in blood, or with the umbilical cord still attached.
The home was set up by Pastor Lee Jong-Rak of the Jusarang Community Church, who started the project after hearing of babies being abandoned in public air or open restrooms, where most of them die from hypothermia.
He shares, “Some teenagers give birth to babies in empty houses or in public toilets. They wrap them in old shirts or towels and bring them to us.” He even shared the story of one father who tried burying his child in the ground, but the child’s mother wasn’t able to bear it, so she rescued the baby and took it to them for adoption.
Single mothers face social stigma
In Korea, giving up unwanted children was a social stigma, and most adoption agencies chose to look the other way should the mothers provide fake or inaccurate information in an attempt to ‘save face’ if they had an unwanted pregnancy.
But in 2012, a law was passed in Korea which effectively banned adoption agencies from accepting children who were undocumented. The law also required adoptions to be approved in court.
This law led to a rise in the number of babies abandoned in the country, since the parents were no longer able to give their children to adoption agencies who now required stricter measures when it came to adoption. Most of them were poor single women who couldn’t afford the cost of having a baby, and some of them have a hard time finding a husband who is willing to accept them and their child, so they opt to abandon their children instead.
Pastor Lee Jong-Rak’s home for abandoned children operates in a legal grey area, and authorities are split since for some, the facility saves the lives of hundreds of children, while for others, they feel that it encourages parents to abandon their children.
Lawmakers are working on a solution
In light of this recent issue, lawmakers are now looking for a better solution when it comes to child abandonment in South Korea.
The original law was created to be in line with international law regarding adoption, but somehow, the law backfired because it drove women to abandon their children since adoption agencies now needed to know their identity for them to be able to leave their children.
Which is why lawmakers are trying to strike a balance between following the international standards for adoption, and figuring out a permanent solution that would both save children from being abandoned, and prevent adoption from becoming an incentive for mothers who have unwanted pregnancies.
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