Korean Government Turns Its Back on Abandoned Babies

An in-depth report on South Korea’s only “baby box” for abandoned infants found little hope for a solution to the growing problem. Pastor Lee Jong-rak, who became internationally famous for his church’s baby box and his care for abandoned babies, many of them with physical disabilities, has come under criticism by the government for operating an unlicensed facility and encouraging parents to abandon their infants.

Online, there was little sympathy for young parents who failed to use condoms. Many comments demanded that the national government take a bigger role in supporting young mothers.

Article From The Hankyoreh:

With her new-born baby crying, an 18-year-old mother shivers and looks around bewildered. These are the stories of abandoned babies.

Three infants play early in the morning at Christ Love Community Church, home to South Korea's only "baby box" and the temporary home for hundreds of new babies every year.

Three infants play early in the morning at Christ Love Community Church, home to South Korea’s only “baby box” and the temporary home for hundreds of new babies every year.

Trembling, an 18-year-old mother says over and over again, “What can I do?”

The mother holds her crying newborn, swaddled in gym clothes.

The baby was soaked with amniotic fluid, an uncut umbilical cord still clinging to him.

“The baby looks to be running a low body temperature. Quick give him a shower of warm water,” says Lee Jong-rak, the 59-year-old minister of the protestant Christ Love Community church.

The baby is handed over to a group of missionary workers and volunteers for a shower, Minister Lee carefully cuts the umbilical cord.

On October 31, 2013, at around 4:00 p.m., Kang So-hee (pseudonym) appeared before the Christ Love Community Church in Nangok-dong, Gwanak District, southern Seoul, carrying her baby, accompanied by her boyfriend of similar same age.

The 18-year-old high school student lives in neighborhood in the north of Gyeonggi Province, Kang gave birth to her baby in the bathroom of her home.

After giving birth, she immediately called her boyfriend and the two of them took a taxi to the taxi. They didn’t even have a moment to give the baby a shower.

The church has a “baby box,” [베이비 박스] designed for unmarried mothers and fathers to put babies into it.

The purpose is to save babies from being abandoned on streets, where they could die.

Instead of leaving her baby in the box, Kang moved inside the church with her baby. “Putting my baby into the box would have felt like I was throwing him out into a garbage can,” she couldn’t lift her head to meet anyone’s gaze.

After a while, Kang complained of dizziness, She had lost too much blood while delivering the baby.

Jeong Young-ran, a 44-year old missionary, prepared a bowl of soup for the young mother, who said, “I should have told my parents of the pregnancy, but I couldn’t because I’m too ashamed and sorry to them. I thought of an abortion, but I couldn’t do that,” she said, with her voice tapering off.

She said she attended school up until her deliver, covering her growing belly with a maternity belt.

At home, she wore slack clothing and tried to avoid her parents. Kang had been on edge, fearful of her pregnancy being discovered.

After a one-hour chat with her, Minister Lee brought his hands together in front of his chest.

He prayed that Gang would become a mother for her baby, and even if the two are separated, that the baby will grow up in his mother’s love.

Gang was unable to hold back her tears any longer. Besides her, the 18-year-old father was in silence, tears dripped down his cheeks. Outside the church, darkness fell.

The baby was left alone in the care of the church.

Eighteen babies were left at the church over a period of twenty days; During 2012, the church took in 235 infants. The government provides little support to unwed mothers, just ₩70,000 a month.

Regardless of their wishes to raise their children, a growing number of parents are abandoning babies.

Yearly statistical data compiled by the Ministry of Health and Welfare showed that a staggering 235 babies were deserted by parents last year across South Korea.

The number of abandoned babies rose from 202 in 2008 to 222 in 2009 and declined to 191 in 2010. But the upward trend appears again-218 in 2011 and 235 in 2012.

Worse still, not a few newborns are losing their lives as their single mothers go through labor. In a tragic case in the city of Ulsan, on November 3, an unwed mother in her thirties delivered her baby in a restroom at a gas station, then left the child to his death. In a harrowing case in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, in Feburary this year, a baby was found to have been buried by a young mother in a nearby mountain.

Four days after Ms. Gang left the church, another baby was found in the baby box.

The drop off happened at around 9:20 p.m. when the twenty children living in the church were about to go to sleep. A bell rang, the sound carrying through speakers installed on the second floor of the church-a signal indicating that the door to the baby box had been opened and closed.

The baby box is located in the wall of the church, allowing people inside the building to check it from the inside of the building.

Minister Lee and other volunteers raced to the first floor to check the box. Inside was a baby swaddled with a white cloth, a note was attached, on t, “October 29, 2013 at 05:00 p.m,” was written in purple pen.

The baby was crying, lost in an unfamiliar place, taking with him only date and time of his birth.

The bell rang through the church on the following day, then the day after and againn in the morning. It rings in the evening and even in the late hours when the whole world is still asleep.

In one case, a lone father brought his baby to the church after the mother ran away from him soon after giving birth. They were unmarried.

“Of abandoned babies, some were born out of incest or rape. But the majority were babies borne to unwed teenage mothers, the second largest proportion were the children borne of adultery.

The mothers and fathers came not only from within Seoul but from across the county. The church’s baby box is the only one of its kind in the country.

The central government offers little or no support for taking care of deserted babies. Most of the time, private nurseries bear the task of taking those babies in and bringing them up.

These centers have been support solely by contributions from citizens. The nation’s only baby box, reliant solely on civilian donations, has recently come under pressure from the government to be scrapped, which says it is unauthorized and has actually encouraged people to abandon their babies.

Missionary Jeong Young-ran said, “It makes no sense that the government demands the church remove the baby box without providing centers to support unwed mothers and abandoned babies.”

Presently, the government offers a paltry ₩70,000 in monthly assistance for unwed mothers. The assistance rose ₩20,000 last August, the first increase in eight years.

When a baby gets sick or hurt, an unwed mother is in trouble. Without help from her maternal family or outside supporters, an unwed mother can’t afford to bring up her baby just with meager government support.

In reality, the government has abandoned the entire child protection system, saying it falls under the authority of local governments. A Ministry of Health and Welfare official said, “Starting in 2005, child social welfare projects that had been supported from the national budgets were turned over to local governments to be run autonomously.”

“The central government can make recommendations to local governments to come up with measures for abandoned babies but cannot force them to do so,” the official added.

In contrast, local governments pointed out the central government has a double standard for child welfare, leading to confusion.

A Seoul city government official said, “It defies my understanding that the central government continues to provide financial assistance to nurseries but refuses to do the same for raising abandoned babies, choosing instead to shift responsibility to the local government. Measures need to be devised on a central government level.”

Experts agree that the top priority is to provided enhanced sex education programs for adolescents and financial support for unwed mothers to address the problem of abandoned babies.

Roh Hye-ryeon, a social welfare professor of Soongsil University, said, “Lessening the number of abandoned babies requires the creation of an environment where unwed mothers raise their babies themselves. It is necessary to increase economic and institutional support.”

Jang Myung-seon, a researcher at the Institute for Gender and Law at Ewha Womans University, said, “The government should establish social care services for unwed mothers to bring up their babies while ensuring they can continue to work or attend school.”

Baby boxThe baby box in the wall of the Christ Love Community Church. The sign above reads, "Rather than abandoning a child unfortunately born with a disability or to a single mother, please place it inside this holder"

The baby box in the wall of the Christ Love Community Church. The sign above reads, “Rather than abandoning a child unfortunately born with a disability or to a single mother, please place it inside this holder”

korea-baby-box-abandoned-church-adoption

Comments from Daum:

nabie:

Those abandoned babies are innocent. Put on condoms please. Is that so hard? How can those children ever live a good life after a start like that?

고문관:

That’s why the nation must become a welfare state. The big rat 2MB [former president Lee Myung-bak] should not have flushed 22 trillion won down the drain on the four-river refurbishment project. Lawmakers should make this issue a top priority.

yellowsun:

I find myself dumbfounded at the fact that most of the abandoned babies come from teenage mothers… I am not in a position to tell teens about relationships and having sex, but I advise them to use condoms. They’re cheap so you can buy them with the same kind of money that you would otherwise spend on cosmetics at a street shop or for a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store. They pretend to be adults, but then fail to take responsibility and abandon a baby. When they become adults, they will act as if nothing happened and get married with another man or woman.

anny:

That minister will surely go to heaven. I think he is the best among all Christians in South Korea.

성정아:

The teenage parents should raise their baby even if the father works as a laborer and the mother works at a restaurant for a living. It’s not somebody else’s baby, it’s yours.

선비:

Among the major reasons for unwanted pregnancies is a woman’s reluctance to refuse to have sex with a man without a condom. She is worried that she would make him feel bad if she refuses to have sex with him. Sex education is necessary to teach women to say No.

A South Korean teenager holds a doll as part of a family planning education class.

A South Korean teenager holds a doll as part of a family planning education class.

Comments from Naver:

김지혜:

Big applause for Kang, who had the courage to take her baby into the church and not abandon him in the box.

milk****:

Proper sex education is urgently needed for students. As the parent of a daughter, my heart breaks whenever I read this kind of article.

rkrl****:

We need to cut the budget for the Ministry of Gender and Family and give that money to child welfare programs. Children have no right to vote, creating little interest in them. But instead of spending money for after-work parties or potted plants for the MOGF, give more support for those babies.

.
dani****:

I hope that people will not act in a way that a singe impulsive mistake could bring consequences that they are unable to be responsible for.

skfl****”

At the age of 19, I gave birth to a baby, and am now raising her. At first, I was thinking about an abortion, but decided against it when I was taken by my parents to a hospital and heard the heartbeat there. When I said to my parents that I was gonna give birth, I was kicked out of my home. I wanted to get to a facility for unwed mothers, but I couldn’t because it was already full and had a long waiting list of pregnant women. I had 10 million won in savings, so I got a room with 5 million won, and kept my child. I get a monthly pay of ₩900,000 from the government after filling out some forms and barely make a living after paying rent and a few other expenses. I plan to raise my baby by myself until she is two years old. I want to be responsible for her, but it’s very hard. I hope there will be more options for unmarried mothers.

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  • Joey

    Sex education in East Asia is a joke. It’s like going straight back to Victorian England.

    “Lie back, close your eyes, and think of Sejong/Mao/Gundams. “

    • your comment is based on knowledge of the curriculum? How do teenage pregnancy rates in Korea compare with other nations? you seem very knowledgeable on the subject, please enlighten me

      • Joey

        They are amongst the lowest in the world, actually. But that could be because people aren’t having sex as teens (average age people first have sex is relatively high) or because they are having more abortions (double the rate in the US).

        • Doge Wallace

          So you’re saying you don’t know for sure?

          • that’s what I’m getting from him, yeah

          • Joey

            Maybe you should read the netizens’ comments and decide for yourself.

    • FYIADragoon

      Take a look at most Western countries, and you’ll see that it doesn’t make much of a difference.

  • JeliesS

    The part about the mom who left the date of birth really broke the dam for me. So many of these kids will grow up not knowing anything of their background or even their birthday. This mother wanted to do that much for her child. It breaks my heart.

  • FYIADragoon

    Ah yes, the same fun problem that Americans get to deal with. Footing the bill for idiots who couldn’t wear a damn condom. I swear sometimes I wish sexual intercourse could be licensed away from people too stupid to do it responsibly.

    • just because you couldn’t get laid in high school doesn’t mean you should slag those who can

      • Jinsulee

        How did you know he didn’t get laid in High school? Leave personal remarks to yourself.

        • have you ever been young and stoopid, not really able to grasp consequence, or not caring? The first time I got my freak on, I had the idea in mind that protection should be used, but the situation was pretty damn freaky, and being caught up in the moment, did not. Luckily, pregnancy or STIs were not a result, only very happy memories. Not everyone is so lucky.

          • Peter Pottinger

            Plenty of people have sex in HS with condoms, just because you were raised in a 17th century household don’t project your weaknesses on other people.

          • who said anything about high school? I said the first time I got my freak on

          • Ruaraidh

            Not everyone is so stupid…

      • FYIADragoon

        Boy, I sure do feel embarrassed that I wasn’t an idiot like you and realized that the seconds it took to put on a condom could prevent a lifetime of problems for myself and others. You sure told me. Get back to preparing lessons for your ESL class, burnout.

        • nice return of the ad hominem; you had a chance to be classy about it but instead decided to show your true quality.

    • bigmamat

      Well let’s see. When you fail to give your children accurate information about sex, limit their access to birth control and ban abortion, this is pretty much what you get.

      • firebert5

        Except that sex education is often requisite, or at least available in the U.S., birth control is readily attainable, and abortions are readily available as well, yet the same problem exists in the U.S. I would hypothesize its an issue of people naturally just not caring, or ignoring what is available. Note: I’m not saying we shouldn’t have those things, I’m just offering a hypothesis for why teen births are still prevalent with or without them.

        • bigmamat

          First of all comparing the U.S. to Korea is very difficult no matter what subject we are discussing. The U.S has 350 million people spread out over 50 states, with many cultures and religions. American schools are controlled locally with their policies and curriculum decided at the state and local level. My state has sex education K thru 12, of course it’s age appropriate. Early education is called “family life”, later health ed. However, every year parents are sent home a form and can opt out of the program either all together or in part. Certain states mostly in the south have sex education for older children that continue to put emphasis on abstinence as the preferred form of birth control.

          Abstinence only sex education has been very controversial in the U.S. During the Bush administration federal grant funding was expanded by Congress to include abstinence only sex education. In 2009 the CDC provided a report that indicated teen pregnancies had increased in 2006 and 2007 following large declines from 1991 to 2005. During this time about 1/3 of teens had received no instruction on other types of birth control.

          I invite you to google the subject if you have further interest. Having said that, comprehensive sex education was working. It still works to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy and the spread of STIs. Luckily the tide has turned and the federal government in 2010 dropped funding for abstinence only sex education.

        • yahnati

          The availability of abortion in the US is on the decline. Most currently red state governments are doing their best to hinder or shut down any facility that offers abortion services.

          There are some states that have ONE clinic that provides abortion services.

          Bit of a shock to look at my state and discover that 93% of the counties here have no provider.

    • UserID01

      You ARE aware that no contraception is 100% effective, yes? Unwed teen mothers aren’t the only ones having kids they aren’t prepared to take care of. There are many couples out there, either casually dating, in long term relationships or even married that do not want kids, use contraception and that contraception STILL fails. There is also the matter of sexual assault which results in pregnancy. Your rage is an extreme oversimplification of a complex societal problem: there is unnecessarily harsh criticism against unplanned pregnancies (and mostly, at the women who carry and give birth to these children). Nobody’s happy to hear that a woman has a kid/kids they don’t necessarily want, but nobody’s offering to HELP that woman care for the unplanned pregnancy, either. Basically, they’re bitching that she’s pregnant and bitch that she wants to put the child up for adoption, especially because abortion is taboo. Actually HAVING that child is socially the better option. People want her to “be responsible” and raise this kid. Even if it means she must do it alone (not much criticism here for the fathers that disappear when an unplanned pregnancy happens). Then, if she DOES choose to raise this child alone, people bitch that she’s leeching off of the government for help.

      You can’t have it both ways. You can’t complain that someone has an unplanned pregnancy then shame them into “being responsible” then complain that it costs government money to help them. Shit happens. Sometimes pregnancies are unplanned. The best possible outcome is to give the parents AND the children the best care you can give them so they CAN become self reliant and not need government assistance anymore.

  • bigmamat

    No idea about the quality of sex education in korean schools if it exists at all. I do know that in “red states” in the U.S. where the emphasis is on abstinence only the teen pregnancy rates are higher. I believe one of our Surgeon Generals said it pretty well…”if the vow of chastity held up better than the condom then we wouldn’t have a problem” I’ve got a feeling that Korean sex education isn’t a lot different.

    • N. Nini Lent

      There is practically NO sex education in S. Korea. They have health class -basically teaches the scientific aspect- but absolutely no practicality class. I have issues with both S. Korea’s sex education stance and the stance of the US. We should be teaching our children the proper ways of birth control, safe sex, and sexual behavior -not shoving abstinence down their throats.

      • bigmamat

        I agree. I also had a good feeling that Korean had no sex education. After all I’ve watched dramas that portray grown women in their 30s as virgins that have never been kissed.

        • chucky3176

          You’ve been watching too much drama. The writers are projecting their own value systems on what Korea should be, where the married couple with their kids, living with their parents in one house as one big happy family. They’re trying to push the ideal Korean family onto the TV audience. That value system might have been true up to 20 years ago, but the reality today is completely different.

          • bigmamat

            I understand. I have an opinion on Korean television censorship too. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when Korea eased it’s censorship of Korean movies that new directors came along and started getting noticed by the international community. Everything can’t be a Disney movie real life isn’t like that, but try to tell that to some of the people I talk to out here on the net. They think it’s just fine to slut shame an actress because she did a nude scene or an idol because they wore a skimpy costume. The level of hypocrisy is stunning coming from a country where the sex trade is so prevalent that it contributes to the GDP.

    • pingu777

      When I was in a Korean high school there was some sex ed but it wasn’t that great. I remember this one time where the teacher used a paddle, ironically sometimes called a love stick, and used it to demonstrate how to fit a condom on it.

  • Ujin

    Does anyone know where I can get the address to this church or if they have a website for donations?

    • Emma

      its called kindredimageorg i just made a donation

  • Ujin

    Does anyone know where I can get the address to this church or if they have a website available for donations?

    • Harald Olsen

      This is the address for their naver cafe, http://m.cafe.daum.net/giveoutlove/4lbm/1?listURI=%2Fgiveoutlove%2F4lbm%3FboardType%3D and it shows their account number for bank transfers. Unfortunately, the site is all in Korean. I and koreaBANG would also urge caution in making donations and make sure that the right person is getting the money.

      • Jinsulee

        That’s the correct cafe. Let me try to look up the address

      • Ujin

        Thank you Harald and Jinsulee.

  • chucky3176

    About that last Korean comment where the girl stuck it out and raised her baby instead of abandoning her/him…. if the baby box at the church was available at that time, I’m sure that young single mother would not have stuck it out, and instead probably would have given up on her baby by dropping it off at the baby box. What that church is doing is a noble good cause. But it’s making it too easy for the parents to abandon the kids, as if they’re dropping off the library books in the bin. I understand exactly why the K-government don’t want to encourage teenage pregnancy and un-wed motherhood by supporting their behavior with monetary funds. Learn from the west, don’t go there. It’s better that a few suffer from teen pregnancy stigma, than to have whole generations of broken families who are proud to get pregnant to get cheap government funded housing and welfare money so that they can buy cigs, chips, sodas, and drugs.

    • lonetrey / Dan

      A sad way to look at things.

      Even sadder, I must agree. That is both where people have brought themselves and changed their paths towards.

    • UserID01

      Better to hand your unplanned/unprepared for/unwanted child to someone who CAN care for them rather than live in misery with a child you don’t love and see as a burden.

  • You don’t allow exposed opposite electrons to mingle then blame the government for the consequential electric shock.

    Still, there should be an orphanage for the innocent kids to be taken care of and to integrate in the society.

  • Krystal Hampton

    To all of you guys and girls out there having sex:

    1. Use a condom.

    2. If you don’t use a condom, take birth control as emergency contraception. Here’s the link: http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/dose.html

    3. On the website, look up your country.

    4. Find birth control you can buy over the counter (through the store), like Minivlar.

    5. Buy it at the pharmacy.

    6. Take the correct dose, noted in the website. You must take the dose immediately. You have until the 3rd day to take the dose.

    7. Next time and all the time, wear a condom and take birth control.

    8. See a gynecologist.

    PS: Donate to the church that helps these children. They need all the help they can get.

  • they used the same box in saint stilianos hospital for abandoned babies in my city during the 50s…seriously things need to change in Korea. You can’t have progress when this kind of matters are still unsolved

  • goldengluvsk2

    this topic enrages me! Teens and even grown ups find money from who knows where to buy couple clothes but they cant afford condoms, birth control or a visit an ob/gyn? That’s beyond me. If theres that many abandoned babies, I dont even wanna think about the number of people with untreated STDs…

    • Warren Lauzon

      The real problem is the total lack of any sex education in Korea. It is about where sex education and knowledge of things like condoms was in the US 70 years ago.

  • Eric0912

    Did you post this translation as a comment to The Hankyoreh’s own (http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/613412.html) …? I really appreciate your work, but feels like a bit of wasted effort this time. ;)

  • MacingFacing

    If you have a smart phone and if you can get a internet connection, please downland the Period Tracker. It tracks your periods and ovulation. The app is free and will avoid DROPPING YOUR BABY IN A BOX!

  • Emma

    I just made a donation using http://www.kindredimage.org these kids need all the support they can get :)

  • sonya

    why can’t south korea legalize safe, legal, medical abortion for women? introduce wide array of birth control options for women? sex education helps too.

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