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Politicians defend credibility by sharing stories of adoption, disability

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Former Board of Audit and Inspection Chairman Choe Jae-hyeong, of the conservative main opposition People Power Party, who recently declared his presidential bid, is photographed while holding a meeting with party spokepeople at the National Assembly, Tuesday. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun
Former Board of Audit and Inspection Chairman Choe Jae-hyeong, of the conservative main opposition People Power Party, who recently declared his presidential bid, is photographed while holding a meeting with party spokepeople at the National Assembly, Tuesday. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun

By Jun Ji-hye

In the past, some adoptive parents in Korea have hid the fact of their children's adoption from them, as well as from other people, for various reasons, such as prejudice against adoptees.

For similar reasons, many people with disabilities have also taken pains to hide them, in an attempt to avoid discrimination.

Such preconceptions about adoption and disabilities have in the past been seen as very sensitive matters to politicians who thoroughly manage their public images.

However, in today's changing social atmosphere, two presidential hopefuls ― former Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) Chairman Choe Jae-hyeong of the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP) and Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung of the liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) ― have attracted attention from the public by not hiding ― and rather proudly disclosing ― the issues that could have been seen as weaknesses, ahead of the presidential election scheduled for March of next year.

It is well-known that Choe and his wife adopted two sons in 2000 and 2006, respectively, after having two daughters. The couple wrote about 150 diary entries about their experiences as adoptive parents on a website run by the Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea, from 2004 to 2011.

Choe said in an interview with local media in 2011, "You shouldn't choose a child for adoption as if you choose products on a display shelf. Before adoption, you should make the difficult decision to protect the child without any conditions."

Choe's adoption tale has recently been in the limelight again after Lee Gyeong, the former deputy spokesperson of the ruling DPK, used the issue to attack Choe.

During her appearance on a current affairs program on TV Chosun, Monday, Lee called on Choe to stop mentioning his experience of having adopted children, saying, "It is not a good idea to let others know about their adoption."

Apparently contrary to her expectation, her comment drew criticism, and among the critics was Choe's adopted son.

Choe's first son, Young-jin, 26, wrote on Facebook, Tuesday, "Before being adopted, I was ashamed to be an orphan. But I am not ashamed anymore, and I hope that my father will mention adoption more and more."

The son added that his father should be able to help console more people affected by adoption, saying, "My father and I have overcome difficulties together."

PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok joined in the criticism, saying that the ruling party was being "presumptuous." The PPP spokesperson, Yang Joon-woo, also claimed that the ruling party had "dismissed the adoption as shameful."

For his part, Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung has recently released a photo that shows his arm disfigured at the elbow, in a bid to explain why he had been exempted from the country's mandatory military service.

Lee said that his arm came to be this way after being injured during his childhood when he was working for a factory, due to poverty.

This photo released on July 17 by Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung of the liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea, who is running in the presidential election, shows his disfigured arm. He released the photo because some people have criticized him for not completing the country's mandatory military service. Yonhap
This photo released on July 17 by Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung of the liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea, who is running in the presidential election, shows his disfigured arm. He released the photo because some people have criticized him for not completing the country's mandatory military service. Yonhap

Lee released the photo after some ruling party supporters created a combined image that features only four of the six presidential candidates of the party ― those who completed their military service. Lee and the only female presidential contender, Choo Mi-ae, were excluded from that image, which has been shared online.

During an online press conference on Sunday, Lee said, "I am sad as some people are indicating that I evaded the required military service on purpose. All disabled people in this country would feel the same way. All my family members, including my two sons, completed their military service. I am the only one who did not."

A civic group representing disabled people filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Tuesday, against the combined image for discriminating against the disabled and women.

"We demand whoever created the image to apologize to both disabled people and women who are not obliged to serve in the military," a representative of the civic group said.


Jun Ji-hye jjh@koreatimes.co.kr


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