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Babies for sale. South Koreans make them, Americans buy them

by Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive, January 1988

Seoul, South Korea. Five pregnant women sleep on blankets on the tile floor of a small room. They keep their personal belongings in three wooden closets on one wall above their feet. This is home, at least until the babies come. The dormitory is called Ae Ran Won, and it is one of a dozen homes for unmarried women in South Korea. Ae Ran Won can hold fifty pregnant women in its ten rooms, but when I was there in November, it had only thirty-five. These women supply the raw material for a peculiar South Korean business: the export of babies to the United States. U.S. families are adopting 6,000 Korean children a year, most of them infants, at a price of about $5,000 a head.

Korea is by far the largest supplier of foreign babies for the U.S. adoption market; 62 percent of all babies adopted from abroad are South Korean. That amounts to 10 percent of the total adoptions in the United States by families unrelated to the adoptees. Many of the babies come from unwanted mothers' homes, about 250 a year from Ae Ran Won alone. At first, the women do not want to give up their babies. According to the questionnaire that we distribute at the orientation interview, 90 percent want to keep the babies, says Kim Yong sook, the director of Ae Ran Won. But after counseling, maybe 10 per cent will keep them. We suggest that it's not a good idea to keep the baby without the biological father, explains Kim Yong Sook, and if the unwed mother and biological father are too young or too weak financially, we suggest that they give the baby up for adoption. We can't push, we can suggest.

After delivery at a hospital, the baby is taken from the mother and given to one of four adoption agencies licensed by the South Korean government. The agencies then place the baby with a foster mother until an American or European family can be found to adopt it. For some of the Korean mothers, the experience hurts. Just after delivery, they are very upset, says Kim Yong Sook, who was a social worker and an unwed mothers' counselor for eleven years for Holt Children's Services, the largest adoption agency in Korea, before joining Ae Ran Won. They have guilt feelings and avoidance feelings. I'd like to see my baby again, they say. Sometimes they have bad dreams. They miss the baby and have a lot of pain....
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