An orphan born in South Korea.
Frigid and cold doesn't quite embody this night. It is, after all, December, just one year ago. Christmas time…the music, the lights, Santa Claus. So much holiday cheer around Pohang, South Korea. But in the still of the night a child was born. This usually joyful occasion is not on this night as the baby was born to a young, unwed mother. An unwed mother that could not face the miserable life that would unfold if she kept her sweet infant boy. She hid her pregnancy from everyone, even though she lived under the same roof as her mother and father. Maybe she didn't really hide it but rather it was a problem that was ignored in the hopes of it going away.
And go away it did. Desperate and out of options, for being a single mother in this Christian land means a life of exile and hardship, even in 2012. This mother wrapped her child in the warmest blanket she could find and sprinted down the street in search of a sanctuary for her little one. Not finding one she left her son in the wee hours of the morning in a darkened alley, the street so cold droplets of water froze on contact, and fled, praying for her son to survive the night.
Soon after his mother left a passerby heard his cries and called the police. Knowing that looking for his mother would be fruitless, they sent him to an orphanage a few kilometers from the alley where he was found. He still lives there where he will likely stay until the age of 20 when he is required, by law, to join the Korean Army for at least two years of service.
This baby is not just a statistic to me. I see him each time I volunteer at the orphanage, teaching English to his “brothers” and “sisters.” He is too young to partake in the activities but runs around the room, playing hide and seek with my husband and me, shrieking with delight each time we catch him. When he falls and gets a boo-boo he cries for his “Umah!” a lovely woman that devotes her life to orphans.
This story happens all around this country, a proud and conservative nation that masks this dark side of its underbelly. Single mothers are virtually non-existent here although unplanned pregnancies happen often. Abortion is illegal despite still being performed regularly, and sending a daughter away in shame to give birth and put her child up for adoption is neither rare nor socially unacceptable.
But through this pain and suffering a box was born. A Baby Box to be precise. A place where mothers could drop off their newborns anonymously, knowing the children would be safe and looked after for the foreseeable future. There is but one of these precious wooden boxes in the entire country, in Seoul, the most forward thinking of the Korean communities. When the box was opened at Jusarang Church eighteen newborns were left in the first twenty days. In 2012 alone, 235 babies were dropped off by their ill-equipped parents in the hopes of a better life. That’s almost five babies a week.
A newborn discovered in the box.
A woman and her children walk down the street that houses the Baby Box.
The mother that left her baby in an alley here in Pohang, didn’t have a place like the Baby Box to drop her son. And would quite possibly have used it had it been available and accessible to her. However, over the last few years the government, due to public pressure, has been trying to shut down this humanitarian endeavor. The government believes the box encourages parents to have sex out of wedlock and then abandon their babies, a logic that makes about as much sense as teaching abstinence only sex education. They believe closing the box will inspire the sad and hopeless mothers to raise their children where they will most likely live in poverty after being disowned by their families. In addition, the government offers very little support to unwed mothers, a paltry 70,000 won (about $68) a month in support.
But, instead of simple forcing the Baby Box to be shut down the government is, instead, passive aggressively leaving the church no other option BUT to close the box. Here is a letter, which was posted on the Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea blog from Ms. Young Ran Jeong from the Jusarang Community Church, which houses the Baby Box:
This morning we received a call from the person in charge of the Baby Box at the Kwanak-Ku office. I was told that the city of Seoul and the Seoul Metropolitan Children’s Welfare Center (서울시아동복지센터) and the Seoul City Children’s Hospital (서울시립어린이병원) had a discussion and they have decided they will no longer accept the babies abandoned through the Baby Box.
They have concluded that other than in emergency situations, they cannot accept additional babies as there is no spaces available in the institutions in the Seoul areas. They told the Jusarang Church (where the Baby Box is) that it would be up to them to take care of the abandoned babies from now on. The city was scheduled to come on Thursday to pick up the children, but they will not do that now. They also stated that the best solution is for them to move to another area region other than Seoul. The other regions have enough rooms to accommodate the children, so it would be good for the Baby Box to move there.
I asked whether it would be possible for the city of Seoul to contact the regional areas and arrange to have the children be transported to those regions. But their excuse was that this would not be possible without changing the administrative related laws.
I also asked the city employee to help the Jusarang to host a children’s center, but was told that if the condition was ideal for Jusarang this would be no problem (stipulation that Jusarang does not qualify under the current facility regulation as they are not legally approved to take care of children as the facility is too small).
They were clearly aware of our limitations, and I could not believe the city was telling me these things. The room at our facility for the newborn babies barely can hold seven babies…and what are we suppose to do for all the children that continue to come to our care…and we can’t even help with the birth registration matters.
I think the bottom line message from Seoul is that they want us to close the Baby Box. Because there have been lots of pressures in the past to close the Baby Box, now the government is using this devious scheme to shut us down. Why can’t they understand that closing the Baby Box is not the solution?
Outside the weather is very cold, and how can they think in this way when just a few days ago there was another news article where a baby was discovered abandoned somewhere and the baby was in a critical condition!!!!
We are at a loss as to what to do as they didn’t even give us how much time we have, but they just dropped the news on us. We can only pray.
I ask for your prayers that this sticky situation will be resolved soon.
Here is the link to the original blog post: http://mpakusa.blogspot.kr/2013/11/a-tragic-decision-by-city-of-seoul-on.html
The central government of Korea also does virtually nothing financially or otherwise to care for the orphans and instead leaves it to private nurseries to bear the burden of raising the children unlucky enough to be passed up for adoption. Premarital sex is greatly ignored as is sex education. This is a country raised by Confucius and going outside the norm to address issues such as unwanted pregnancies or single mothers is an extremely touchy subject.
Two other baby boys were born. They were left in the care of others for the first months of their lives. They weren’t abandoned on the side of the road but were born in a place where unwed mothers could go to find support during their pregnancies and given the peace to make the best decision for their unborn children. There is very little anyone knows about either one of their biological mother’s and father’s other than they chose to give their sons the best life possible. The boys were able to make it through the first months of their lives by the kindness and care of others and because their mothers had a place to leave them besides an alleyway or a dumpster. These boys turned out to be two of the most important people in my life. Two boys who grew up to be men the world can be proud of. The two boys are my brothers. Save the Baby Box. Save Babies.
Laura Whang is a writer and teacher from Los Angeles. She is currently based in Pohang, South Korea teaching English at both a public elementary school and an orphanage. You can find her at www.BreakingLo.com.
My and my brothers, Sam and Alex, at my wedding in March 2013.
My brother Alex as a baby. Such a happy boy!
My brother Sam as a baby!
To apply to adopt a child from Korea or find out more information here are two adoptions agencies in the U.S. to help you:
1. Dillon Southwest - http://www.dillonsouthwest.org/ - 3014 N Hayden Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, United States +1 480-945-2221. I can personal vouch for this agency as this is who my parents went through when adopting my brothers. The owner, Marsha, is one of the most amazing people you'll meet.
2. Holt International - http://www.holtinternational.org/korea/
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