This article was published on 17.09.2006, in The Sidney Morning Herald.
SOUTH Korea has suspended all new overseas adoptions, plunging hundreds of Australian families into uncertainty.Adoption agencies in Korea have suspended inter-country adoption because of falling birth rates and new welfare policies that promote local adoption and provide better support for single mothers.
The NSW Department of Community Services confirmed the suspension yesterday, but a spokeswoman said it was temporary and all applications already received by Korean authorities would be processed.
Australian Society for Intercountry Aid for Children vice-president Linda Robertson said the suspension had come as a shock to many families.
“The Korean program has been a very smooth process but the birth rate has been down and they’ve been placing babies locally,” she said.
“At this stage it hasn’t been closed and we see ups and downs in other countries all the time. But Korea has never hidden the fact that they planned to become a country that has no inter-country [adoptions] because they are aiming to provide for their own people.”
Kellyville couple Leanne and Ray Lehrer adopted 18-month-old Soo Jin from South Korea when he was four months old. Their application for a second child has now been placed in doubt.
Mrs Lehrer said she had hoped to adopt a second child from Korea for cultural continuity reasons. Each week the family attends a Korean playgroup – learning language, traditional cooking and culture. Soo Jin had a traditional first birthday party, and the family hope he will one day meet his birth mother.
“We’re doing what we can as he grows because we’d like him to know a lot about his home culture,” Mrs Lehrer said.
“It’s a positive thing that they are wanting to promote domestic adoption . . . but it’s not easy embracing another culture and we want to do it well. That’s one of the reasons we are not overly keen to consider another culture.”
For now, the family will wait and see.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Mrs Lehrer said. “At least we’ve been blessed with one.”
The suspension will hit hard internationally, too. Most affected will be couples in the United States, where almost 20,000 Korean babies were adopted between 1995 and 2004.
In Australia, the suspension will affect couples who have one Korean-born child and wish to adopt a second from the same culture.
And age restrictions, which require applicants to be younger than 44, mean that some couples will have to consider adopting from other countries.
“What I’m telling families is if they have age on their side and they are prepared to wait, then wait six months and reassess,” Mrs Robertson said.
“The ultimate aim is to provide a home for children who otherwise wouldn’t have one in their own country so if these children can be locally adopted then we’re all for it.
“But if they can’t place them locally then we hope they will place them with families here.”
The news came two days after the Federal Government announced it would take on primary responsibility for inter-country adoptions, a role now played by state agencies.