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”


Comments from Daum:


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?


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.


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.


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


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.


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:


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


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


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.


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.


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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