A group of officials from the Swedish Intercountry Adoption Authority (MIA) recently visited Korea to study its controversial “baby box” system, which allows people to anonymously drop off children, child care groups said Monday.
The baby box, operated by the Ju-sarang Community Church in Seoul, was created to prevent parents who are not able to raise children from discarding or even killing them.
“They (Swedish officials) wanted to know what kind of process the children who were dropped in a baby box go through. They were very curious because our social security system is very different from theirs,” said Pastor Lee Jong-rak, who manages the only existing baby box in Korea.
Some 18 countries operate baby boxes that allow parents to abandon their unwanted babies so that others can care for them.
In 2012, 139 babies were abandoned at locations across the country, a threefold increase in just three years. Since 2009, the number of abandoned babies has increased for five straight years, according to Welfare Ministry data provided by Saenuri lawmaker Min Hyun-joo.
Pastor Lee said the 2012 revision of the adoption law is responsible for the recent spike in the number of abandoned children.
The new adoption act makes it more difficult to circumvent the legal requirement to register childbirths with the biological mother’s name, as stipulated in a 2008 law on family registration. Many experts say that the process may discourage young unmarried mothers from applying for legal adoptions because it leaves a permanent record, experts say.
“Since the revision, the number of babies left at the baby box increased by 10 times,” Lee said. “If the law pushes mothers to discard their babies and ultimately puts their lives at peril, then what is the purpose of the law?”
Other experts, however, pinned the blame on the baby box itself. While the system gives reluctant parents an illusion that the babies are in good hands, the operators of the baby box can do little more than report the abandoned babies to the authorities.
Pastor Kim Do-hyun ― the director of KoRoot, an organization for Korean adoptees ― said widespread misunderstandings about the baby box ultimately led to an increase in the number of abandoned babies.
Through a series of columns, Kim said the parade of media coverage Lee and his baby box received has led parents to wrongly believe that the reverend will take care of the deserted babies. The baby box, however, is not an infant care center and merely relays the children to public officials who then put them in child care programs.
While he applauded the good intentions of Lee and the Ju-sarang Community Church, Kim said the legal grounds for protection of abandoned children must be taken into consideration before setting up a baby box.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)