|President Moon Jae-in attends a Cabinet meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Tuesday. Yonhap|
By Jung Da-min
Remarks on adoption procedures President Moon Jae-in made during his New Year press conference Monday have triggered fresh controversy following the recent media focus on the death of a 16-month-old girl in October last year following alleged brutal abuse by her adoptive parents.
The President said systems for protecting adopted children need to be strengthened so that signs of abuse can be detected quickly and children separated from their abusive parents. Moon also called for more shelters to be built to accommodate children abused by adoptive parents.
However, what triggered a public furor were Moon saying that adoptive parents could "cancel" their adoption if they changed their minds. Critics saw those words as offensive to families with adopted children and an infringement on the rights of minors.
"In cases of adoption, officials need to thoroughly check whether people hoping to adopt a child have made thorough preparations, and are also required to make frequent visits to homes in the early stages to check if the child is adapting well to the new family. Also, adoptive parents may change their minds, so measures are also needed, including allowing them to cancel an adoption within a certain period of time (at the early stage) or to change a child (with another) if the parents still have a strong desire to adopt but cannot get along with the child," Moon said.
Moon added that such measures would help protect adopted children while continuing to encourage more couples to adopt.
Opposition lawmakers and the public were outraged and accused Moon of treating children as "goods" that can be replaced or canceled, while hurting many families with adopted children.
"The President's remarks showed his dangerous perception that adopted children can be 'exchanged or refunded' and there seemed to be no consideration of human dignity and value," main opposition People Power Party spokesman Bae Joon-young said in a commentary, Tuesday.
A petition calling for an apology from Moon was posted on the Cheong Wa Dae website. "Adoption is not like shopping for a child. When people have made up their minds to care for a child for his or her whole life, they adopt the child with love that is beyond comparison," one petitioner wrote.
"If the President, the head of the country, treats children waiting for adoption and adoptive parents like that, who can protect the children? I ask the President to admit he misspoke and apologize."
As controversy mounted over the remark, Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok repeatedly stressed that Moon's true intention had been misconstrued. Kang said the President was talking about a temporary foster period before a child is formally adopted.
"The President has no such concept of 'refunding children' as some members of the main opposition party have said," Kang said during a radio interview with local broadcaster MBC, Tuesday.
But minor opposition Justice Party Rep. Sim Sang-jung said that Cheong Wa Dae's explanation did not make sense and was inappropriate.
"The foster care system is a procedure to verify the qualifications of parents who are responsible for raising a child and not a system allowing adoptive parents to decide whether they will raise the child or not," Sim said during a party meeting on Tuesday. "After the President's remarks, families with adopted children are saying the problem is child abuse rather than adoption. The President should correct his inappropriate remarks which hurt families with adopted children."