Jane Jeong Trenka, president of the Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea
/ Courtesy of Raphael Bourgeois
By Kim Young-jin
They say an activist’s work is never done. For Jane Jeong Trenka, an advocate for Koreans adopted abroad, the adage couldn’t ring truer.
Trenka, head of the Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) and a Korean adoptee herself, is now focusing her attention on single mothers, who she says face societal hurdles here that push them to resort to adoption.
On May 11, TRACK will co-host the second Single Moms’ Day after creating the event last year to “challenge” Adoption Day on the same date.
In an interview, Trenka underscored the link between the welfare of single mothers and adoption.
“The organizations that are co-hosting Single Moms’ Day are convinced that if there were an adequate social welfare system, most unwed moms would choose to raise their kids,” she said.
“Since these moms have historically been shunned and denied the most basic support, it is extremely rare to meet adults in Korea who have been raised by unwed mothers.”
More than 200,000 Koreans have been adopted abroad since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. While the country has been held up as a model country for adoption, some scholars say the process was abused in the past to expedite adoptions amid the country’s rapid economic development.
According to organization, the government gives single parents some 50,000 won per month in financial support while providing double that amount to adoptive parents and providing orphanages with heavy support.
The vast majority of adoptees here are relinquished by unwed mothers ― often frowned upon by traditional society ― who mostly cite economic hardship as the reason they turned to adoption.
The groups will host awareness-raising activities through the day at the National Assembly with participants including representatives of the Ministry of Gender Equality and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child Committee.
“The first Single Moms’ Day brought a general, positive message about single moms to society. This year, we are specifically looking at how Korea can improve its policies on single moms, children, and adoptees by meeting its existing U.N. human rights treaty obligations,” Trenka said.
The campaign comes after TRACK and others last year spearheaded the passage of a reform bill by the National Assembly. The bill aims to improve conditions by giving adoptees better access to information held by adoption agencies and shift government focus to services to help Korean parents keep their children.
If all that wasn’t enough, Trenka this week will release the Korean-language edition of “Outsiders Within,” a book she co-edited along with Julia Chinyere Oparah and Shin Sun-yung that explores the challenges faced by transnational adoptees.
That the book is published in Korean implies a shift in the dialogue from adoptees to their families here in Korea, Trenka said.
“I hope that this book gives our birth families a more realistic understanding of adoptee experiences, which can improve our personal relationships with them,” she said.
While Trenka acknowledged that the timing of Single Mom’s Day, to coincide with Adoption Day, could rub some the wrong way, she stressed that a deeper look shows why the event is important.
“Korea is not trying hard enough to prevent family separation in the first place, and growing up in one’s own family is really the best situation for the child in most cases.”
A book release party for “Outsiders Within” will be held May 3rd, organized by KoRoot, a resource and housing center for adoptees. For more information, visit www.koroot.org.
The second Single Moms’ Day Conference will be held at the National Assembly on May 11 from 10 a.m. Visit www.justicespeaking.wordpress.com.