The shame of Korea's orphan exportation
- The shame of Korea's orphan exportation
Cho Jeong Lae, writer and Endowed Professor at Dongguk University
There are more than 200 countries on this earth. Among these, the
Republic of Korea ranks 12th economically. Every Korean knows this,
and brags or gets haughty about it. And why not? Are we not a poor
country that had a per capita income of US$80 in the early sixties
that has since achieved per capita national income of US$20,000?
It would seem, however, that there are few Koreans who know that this
country they are so proud of is the world's 4th largest orphan
exporter. This is because of a social atmosphere in which people ask
what use there is knowing such things when you're busy enough as it
is trying to get ahead in life yourself. That, in turn, may be what
makes being the 4th largest exporter of orphans more shameful than
standing naked. Foreign media have begun criticizing this cruel
apathy. "Now that Korea has become an economic powerhouse, it should
stop sending adoptees overseas," they say.
Ahead of this criticism, in Seoul this summer some 600 overseas
adoptees attended a conference of the International Korean Adoptee
Associations (IKAA). Some among them held a protest calling for an
end to Korea's exportation of adoptees. In their various languages
they said one thing. "You should be ashamed!"
Something happened to me two years ago. Korea was the guest of honor
at the 2002 at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and I was one of several
Korean authors who participated in some of the events. During the
course of the week we did public readings and newspaper interviews.
One day I was interviewed by a Swedish literary critic. Somewhere in
the course of the interview she asked what I thought about the fact
that Korean adoptees are exported to other countries. I felt like I
had been hit with a splash of hot water. I worked hard to hide my
feelings of shame and embarrassment and to give a straight answer. It
also happened to be something I have always thought a lot about.
The Swede had a follow-up question. "What are you doing as an author
to solve the problem?" This was how she was openly displaying her
displeasure with my answer. If felt as miserable as could be, since
as an author I had done nothing. I admitted that I had done nothing,
and evaded the question saying I would do anything I could in the
future. Two years have passed and I've done nothing to stop the
export of orphans.
The exportation of Korean orphans started immediately after the
Korean War. More than 3 million people died in a war that lasted just
three years, during which the country was bombed into a wasteland -
imagine how many children were orphaned in the process! Those poor
precious things had to be sent overseas instead of being forced to
starve. It was a heartrending choice but the right one.
However, it is wrong that this practice has continued through today.
It should have stopped when we put the postwar poverty behind us and
began to be able to sustain ourselves again, at about the point where
we achieved a per capita national income of US$5,000. Or we should
have ended it for sure when we surpassed the US$10,000 mark. Today we
boast a per capita national income of US$20,000, but we're still
sending orphans to other countries.
India has 800 million people and barely earns a per capita income of
US$1,000, and it sends 320 orphans overseas yearly. Korea has 50
million people and a per capita income of US$20,000 and yet in one
year it sends 1,400 orphans overseas. Every Korean government has
invited international embarrassment because of its carefree
dereliction of duty, and how firmly have each of us closed our hearts
while we all obsessed with our individual selves. Thirty years ago
Japan earned the international nickname "economic animal." What will
Korea's nickname be?
Posted on : Sep.18,2007 09:46 KST