ONTD Political

Part of Korea's Struggles with Multiculturalism

11:49 pm - 02/20/2012

Mixed-race children face new obstacles

Abandonment and abuse put them at disadvantage from the start

It was around 5 a.m. on the morning of March 20, 2010, when a woman surnamed Park from Bangbae-dong, southern Seoul, heard a baby crying and ran to her door. On her doorstep was a dark-skinned newborn in a box with a note that said, “Please take good care of my baby. His name in English is Jeromy. I don’t have enough money to support him. I really love him. He was born at home on March 19, 2010, at 10:15 a.m.”

Park called the police, and Jeromy was transferred to the Seoul Child Welfare Center, which found a permanent home for him at Eden I Ville, an infants’ home in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul.

“We predict Jeromy was born of a Korean father and a Filipino mother,” said Lee So-young, the director of Eden I Ville. “As we want all children who were abandoned to be adopted and find a family, we wanted Jeromy to be adopted as well, but because he differs in appearance from other Korean children, most of the Korean couples who have visited our center have been reluctant to consider him.”

Lee said, however, that a multiethnic couple recently became interested in adopting Jeromy. She said she now has to look for Jeromy’s biological mother in order to successfully arrange an adoption, though it will be difficult because the mother is a foreign national. But she may have a lead.

Lee went on to say that the woman who found Jeromy believes she knows how to locate the mother. The woman told Lee that she has adopted children of her own and has a helper at home named Cherry, who is from the Philippines.

“Mrs. Park told me that Cherry used to go to a church for foreigners in Itaewon and she thinks that Cherry must have told one of her friends about her,” Lee said. “One of them could be Jeromy’s mother.”

The rise in international marriages has helped the country move closer to becoming a multiracial society, but one of the early consequences of this development is a corresponding increase in the number of mixed-race children who are abandoned, according to Lee Ki-young, the director of the Seoul Child Welfare Center, where Jeromy is now living. “And these children rarely get adopted,” Lee said.

According to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, the number of children of cross-cultural marriages has risen as much as four times in less than four years, or 25,000 annually, from 44,258 in May 2007 to 151,154 in January last year, as the country has seen an increase in the number of migrant workers and cross-cultural couples.

Another problem that has emerged is child abuse.

The center has placed 12 mixed-race children in other facilities since 2008. Four of the 12 had been abused, Lee said.

According to the National Child Protection Agency, of the 5,657 cases of child abuse reported in 2010, 243 cases involved mixed-race children, accounting for 4.3 percent of the total number of child abuse cases in the country.

The most common type of abuse reported was negligence, which accounted for 43 percent of cases, followed by emotional abuse, accounting for 35.7 percent. Those surveyed said their biggest obstacles are communication and differences in parenting styles.

Experts say that protecting these children - many of whom don’t have Korean citizenship - is more difficult than protecting children with Korean citizenship.

Korea does not automatically grant citizenship to immigrant children born on Korean soil; therefore, only children with one Korean parent can become citizens.
If the parents are illegal immigrants, the child could be stateless.

The National Child Protection Agency recently handled the case of a three-year-old girl, identified only as “A,” with Congo citizenship who was taken into a child support facility in Gyeonggi about a year ago because her father, who works as a day laborer, had failed to take care of her.

The father had a room at a motel and locked the girl up all day long while he was out working. When the father was investigated, he had no desire to raise the girl, who was in poor health.

She is currently being cared for at a child protection center, but her stay will be temporary. Because she is not a Korean citizen, she is ineligible for the government subsidies that would enable her to stay at a long-term protection facility.

“There needs to be a law that allows children with foreign citizenship to be admitted to child protection facilities,” said Lee Ji-mi, an employee with the National Child Protection Agency.

To make matters worse, the divorce rate for multiracial couples in Korea is on the rise, putting their children at risk of abandonment.

According to Statistics Korea, a total of 11,245 multiethnic couples in which one of the partners is Korean got divorced in 2010, accounting for 32.8 percent of international marriages.

As more couples break up, the number of mixed-race children who have been abandoned has also risen. Statistics Korea said that in 2010 there were 1,500 children from multiethnic families who were living with one parent or who had been abandoned, an increase of more than three times in seven years from 500 in 2004. Yet the data does not reflect how many children are being abandoned.

Experts say that mixed-race children from divorced families suffer more both emotionally and financially than Korean children in the same situation.

Jeong Yu-jin, an employee at Woori Multicultural Support Center in Seoul, said, “After a divorce, if the mother doesn’t have a Korean visa and goes back to her home country, leaving the child with the father, the child will feel more out of place. If the mother stays in Korea to raise the child by herself, they will both suffer financially because the mother will have difficulty getting a job here, not to mention the mother’s struggle to take care of her child.”

Troubles at school

In addition to neglect and mistreatment, children from multiethnic families also have difficulty entering schools in Korea, largely because of the language barrier.

Lee Cheon-young, the principal of the New World School in Gwangju, an alternative elementary and middle school for mixed-race children, said he is worried about the students at his school who are ready to proceed to high school because they are “not welcomed” by public high schools.

Most of the students at the school don’t have Korean citizenship, as their parents are both foreign nationals who came to Korea to earn a living, Lee said.

Meanwhile, the children at the school who do have Korean citizenship have difficulty adapting to Korean schools, the principal said.

“Because public high schools don’t believe these students have the ability to enter high school or do well there, most of our students weren’t admitted for the upcoming academic year [which starts in March],” Lee said. “Moreover, most of our students have been abandoned by their parents and live in school dorms.”

The school, which was established in 2007, currently has 85 elementary and middle school students from 14 countries, including China, Japan, Russia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Indonesia and North Korea.

Thirty-eight students at the school who are of age to graduate from middle school have not yet been admitted to a high school.

The Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education explained that the principals at the high schools to which the New World students applied rejected the students’ applications, saying that “their academic level is too low to keep pace with regular high schoolers.”

Language is the biggest obstacle to bringing the students up to grade level, Lee said, but his school has also struggled with obtaining the necessary certification to qualify as an educational institution. The school was certified in June 2011, but prior to that, its students’ work wasn’t recognized by public schools.

Twenty of the 38 middle schoolers have been admitted to Dasom High School in Jaecheon, North Chungcheong. The school is a newly established, state-run alternative school for students from multiethnic families that is slated to open in March.

But the remaining 18 students will have to continue at New World.

“We have no choice but to keep the rest of the students here and help them prepare for the national qualification exam so they can gain admission to public high schools,” Lee said. “The country should admit that these students have limitations in terms of their ability to meet the academic standards and find a way to embrace them so they can better adapt to Korean society.”

Kim Hae-sung, the president of Global Sarang Organization, which operates a network of support centers for multiethnic families including the Global School, a school for multiracial children, said the problem needs to be addressed on two fronts.

“I believe our future depends on how we educate these children and our ability to change the awareness Koreans have about being a racially homogenous nation,” he said.

“Children from multicultural families could easily become the top victims of how a country handles multiculturalism unless we take good care of them,” he said.

Struggles with language

Another obstacle the children from multiethnic families face is delayed language development. Some parents have tried to address this through language lessons, which are provided for free by local governments.

A 31-year-old ethnic Korean woman from China, surnamed Choi, who married a Korean man in 2008, brought her three-year-old son to the Guro District Multicultural Family Support Center on Feb. 6 for the free language lessons. Choi’s son, who is surnamed Jeong, receives two 40-minute private sessions with a language tutor per week.

“I think my son has made some progress with memorizing words, but he still can’t make full sentences and only communicates with me using the few words he knows,” said Choi, who is quite fluent in Korean.

She said she is still worried that her son’s language development is “a little slow.”

“Although I’m fairly fluent in Korean, my pronunciation is different and my grammar may not always be correct,” Choi said. “But if I’m this worried about my son, I wonder how much the other immigrant mothers I know [who can’t speak Korean as well] worry about their children.”

According to Jeong’s language tutor Kim Hyo-ran, “Children from multicultural families, like Jeong, lack the verbal stimulation they need to speak Korean, as most immigrant mothers are not fluent in Korean.”

In addition to her worries about her son’s language development, Choi said she and her friends worry about getting enough information about educating their children here. She said she has learned most of what she knows by talking to other mothers in her neighborhood but confessed that she hasn’t ever told them she is from China.

“I told them I’m from Daegu and they believed me because my pronunciation is somewhat similar to the dialect in that region,” she said. “I am afraid they might judge me and won’t share things with me anymore.”

Kim, the language tutor at Guro District Multicultural Family Support Center, said most foreign brides who come to Korea haven’t learned the language before they arrive and get pregnant as soon as they get married. She said this is often the source of their children’s struggle with language because the mothers do not communicate with their children.

“One mother from the Philippines who brings her two children here said she hardly talks to her children, who are ages five and six, and makes them watch TV after coming home from kindergarten,” Kim said. “The children could be at risk for ADHD or socialization problems, not to mention language development delays.”

According to Kim, the mother has been living in Korea for seven years but her alcoholic husband has forbidden her to leave the house out of fear she will run away. The mother can’t speak Korean, and the two children can only reply to questions with “yes” or “no” answers rather than making full sentences, Kim said.

“They are very lethargic and passive,” Kim said. “I’m worried how they are going to adapt to elementary school.”

Shin Jeong-bok, a social worker who has volunteered at many events for multiethnic families, also believes the government should give more attention to these children. She said “multiculturalism” has become a nominal signboard that attracts government funding and believes the focus should not be on celebrating multiculturalism but on real policies that focus on aiding multiethnic families and their children.

“So much money is being wasted under the banner of multiculturalism,” Shin said. “We have to concentrate on bringing these children who are in the dark into the light.”

Korea's a traditionally homogenous society and multiculturalism is something very new to them, and they don't necessarily have a good system in place to deal with these issues that come up. I wish the more people would be willing to adopt these kids.

What I personally don't get is why the schools won't take them. I also don't know a ton about raising children here, as I am not a parent myself, but I have read about foreign parents from Western countries simply placing them in Korean public school because as far as I understood it, the government schools would have to take them, Korean or not (some westerners have been doing that because English school is too expensive). Not recommended though, because it's rough for kids that aren't ethnically 100% Korean, or for kids who don't speak Korean because they don't have a very good integration system in place for foreign children. I remember a mother posting online that they just threw her daughter in the back of the classroom and gave her a book and kind of ignored her, and the other kids gave the daughter a rough time by calling her "stupid" and whatnot. But, I guess the high schools can choose or something? I don't know.

Though, it looks like someone's trying to resolve these issues, so I hope they can have a good system going eventually.

starsinshapes 20th-Feb-2012 05:47 pm (UTC)
this makes me sad. :(
shirogirl 20th-Feb-2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
Well damn, that's depressing :/ I'm about to give birth to a half Korean child and we have distant plans about living there at some point, maybe it's not such a good idea.
tabaqui 20th-Feb-2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on upcoming child-having. :)
shirogirl 21st-Feb-2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you :D
(no subject) - Anonymous
shirogirl 21st-Feb-2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
I'm a true mutt, five generations of mixed breeding lol. I'm mostly Native American/Latina though.
littlelauren86 21st-Feb-2012 09:00 am (UTC)
Congrats! IMO you should still come to Korea. It's easier to deal when the kids are younger and it's easier to get settled and school children while they're young. It just gets trickier when you have grade school age children (like elementary age & older), especially if they don't already speak Korean and you're not loaded. But expats have done it before you.

Korean children can be harsh toward anyone that doesn't fit in exactly, even 100% Koreans that happen to have been raised abroad. You know, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. But in your favor, there are more and more mixed children popping up every day and more expats are choosing to stay put in Korea. There are even western, non-Korean single moms here. So things are changing.

And the mixture does matter :-/ It seems like half-white children fair the best out of any other mix.

Here's a forum for expat parents in Korea: http://expatparents.50.forumer.com/index.php

Try posting your concerns over there :)
shirogirl 21st-Feb-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
My husband was born in the States but spent every summer living in Korea with is grandparents. He said in his experience the local kids all wanted to be friends with him because he was American so I think he assumed it would be like that for our kid without factoring in the mixed race thing.
I'm going to check out that forum, thanks!
starbeams 20th-Feb-2012 06:01 pm (UTC)
I've known people in Korea that were half Korean and they said it was very much like this there. I have a friend that is half Chinese that's family moved to America when she was a baby just because of how badly her older sister was being treated in school, even while they were fluent in Korean.

I'm confused though why they'd have to get the parent's permission to move forward with the adoption though, when the baby has been abandoned. Even though they're making strides to get better, the country also closed down all adoptions of Korean children to foreign countries this year, which will affect the orphans of the country, especially the disabled, significantly. I understand they want to keep Korean children in their home countries, but there are too few Korean couples actually adopting.

/edit for typo

Edited at 2012-02-20 06:06 pm (UTC)
littlelauren86 21st-Feb-2012 09:13 am (UTC)
I have a friend that is half Chinese that's family moved to America when she was a baby just because of how badly her older sister was being treated in school, even while they were fluent in Korean.

Yea, I've heard plenty of stories like that too. The bullying is supposed to be pretty common, and if not that, social isolation. That can be hell for a kid. I just don't understand it really. To care that much that someone's half-Chinese or whatever.

I'm confused though why they'd have to get the parent's permission to move forward with the adoption though, when the baby has been abandoned.

Yea, your guess is as good as mine. I don't get it either.
missmurchison 20th-Feb-2012 06:01 pm (UTC)
These cultural issues are why so many US parents were able to adopt children from Korea over the past few decades. I know there are practical and philosophical criticisms of out-of-the-country adoptions, but after reading this story, I can only be glad that my cousin's children found a home with their funny and loving American parents.
jettakd 20th-Feb-2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
This is really depressing :( I'm also confused as to why they would need the permission of the bio-mom to adopt out the abandoned baby.
perthro 20th-Feb-2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
I'm wondering if there are/were concerns about human trafficking. Japan had laws regarding parents bringing their offspring to places like Yoshiwara because people would adopt the poorest people's kids as "maids", saying they'd have a good life... and then sold them to brothels.
imnotasquirrel 20th-Feb-2012 06:15 pm (UTC)
I remember reading an article about how so many Korean single mothers in general have to give up their babies because there just isn't a lot of support for them in the system, so I can imagine how much worse it'd be for the mother of a mixed-race child, or if the mother herself weren't Korean. The note from Jeromy's mother makes me want to cry. :(
dkwrkm 20th-Feb-2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
Awwww, what a cute baby. Makes the whole thing even more depressing. Hope Korea gets it together ASAP. :(
blueboatdreams 20th-Feb-2012 06:29 pm (UTC)
Korea has some real problems in dealing with multi-ethnic people. There's a weird hate-love thing going on there.
(no subject) - Anonymous
blueboatdreams 20th-Feb-2012 08:34 pm (UTC)
That's what I mean though. Even if someone is Half-European Half-Korean, they still get treated differently. Yes, they end up being* more prized for their features, but are still treated like "foreigners" in other respects.

I remember watching a story about that Half African-American Half Korean football player who would've otherwise been treated poorly if he weren't a big-time successful athlete.

Edit: For grammar and syntax

Edited at 2012-02-20 08:35 pm (UTC)
minamoto 21st-Feb-2012 03:24 am (UTC)
ugh, yes, this, I hate this so much :| my mother and I get a lot of shit for our darker skin tone from Chinese people despite the fact that we're both 100% chinese and it sucks and I absolutely detest it.
kamottle 21st-Feb-2012 12:38 am (UTC)
It's the same in a lot of Asian countries tbh.
cecilia_weasley 20th-Feb-2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
We are speaking of the one of the most homogeneous countries and cultures in the world. It is of course, still disgusting that these children are denied education and safety.
thepuddingcook 20th-Feb-2012 07:48 pm (UTC)
I had to stop reading and skip some parts because it is just too painful. I can't even imagine what was going through the mom's head who wrote that note...I can't believe that father would lock his baby up in the hotel room while he worked (although I am not sure how true it is that he "didn't care" and if it was in fact that he simply could not afford to take care of her AND work less hours.

Korea does not automatically grant citizenship to immigrant children born on Korean soil; therefore, only children with one Korean parent can become citizens. If the parents are illegal immigrants, the child could be stateless.

This could happen here. And it would be awful. My husband hires a lot of refugees and he has met a few who were stateless, literally they were "men without a country".
roseofjuly 21st-Feb-2012 02:22 am (UTC)
If by "here" you mean the United States...how? We grant citizenship to children born on American soil.
thepuddingcook 21st-Feb-2012 02:25 am (UTC)
I meant this could happen in the US if birthers and some Tea Partiers have their way and try to change the 14th amendment so birthright citizenship is no longer given--Ron Paul is all over that ish. Believe me, my father was an illegal immigrant, I know I have citizenship because I was born here. I am worried about this nativist sentiment and how it could affect birthright citizenship.
tabaqui 20th-Feb-2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
This is just...bah. I get that there's little to no support, but i can't imagine abandoning my child in a country that doesn't seem to want them at all. How horrific a decision that must be.

Heartbreaking for everyone. At least there are some organizations willing to help them.
the_gabih 20th-Feb-2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
If the baby in the picture is Jeromy, then he is the sweetest little thing. I can't imagine what his mother must be going through.
peace_piper 20th-Feb-2012 11:54 pm (UTC)
Whoa... I had no idea.
angelofdeath275 21st-Feb-2012 01:14 am (UTC)
ugh, a depressing matter :(
falling_cookie 21st-Feb-2012 07:51 am (UTC)
that's so sad. I hate that it's children who had no choice over being born that are being treated this way.
dearmisterecho 21st-Feb-2012 01:02 pm (UTC)
God, what a horrible situation for these children. So many hardships, so early in life, it breaks my heart :(
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