As U.S. and South Korean forces engage in war games off the east coast of South Korea, back in the United States Korean-American Christians are drawing attention to the problem of stateless North Korean orphans.
California-based Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom said while it may be "appropriate" or even "necessary" to hold the joint military exercises in response to North Korea's recent aggression, Congress should also demonstrate "moral clarity" by passing the North Korea Orphans bill (H.R. 4986 and S. 3156).
H.R. 4986, also known as the North Korean Refugee Adoption Act of 2010, is sponsored by Congressman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and was introduced to the House of Representative in March. The bill addresses the problem of stateless children from North Korean mothers who live in China and other Southeast Asian countries by proposing inter-country adoption by U.S. citizens.
Children born by North Korean mothers and Chinese fathers in mainland China often end up with no legal citizenship. The Chinese father must obtain a family registry certificate for the child, but the situation is complicated by the fact that the North Korean mother is considered to be an illegal economic migrant under Chinese law. China, the strongest ally of North Korea, regularly repatriates North Korean refugees who face torture or even death upon return to their country.
As a result, the child is often left without citizenship in China, which means the child cannot receive an education or medical assistance from the government.
"[T]hose who suffer the most [under the North Korean regime] are women, children, the elderly, the disabled, the orphans," said the KCC, in a statement Monday. "Pass the NK Orphans bill and bring hope to those who have none."
Critics of the bill, however, say it bypasses the core problem – Chinese law regarding North Korean refugees – and separates families. The usual priorities are to keep families together, then domestic adoption and lastly inter-country adoptions.
Another obstacle for the bill is that it needs to establish another way to determine that a child is an orphan, since the mother and child have no documentation from North Korea.
Supporters of the bill maintain, however, that this is the best way to help the children from North Korean defectors given China's lack of cooperation. Still, even if the bill passes, the United States would need to work out legal ramifications with China to transport the children to American families.
Despite the challenges, KCC has been pushing Congress to pass the North Korean Orphan Adoption bill. Last week, it took some 70 Korean-American teenagers to the nation's capital to hold meetings with Members of Congress and participate in rallies on behalf of North Korean refugees and the orphan bill.
According to certain estimates, at least 500,000 North Koreans have crossed the border to China over the past decade. More than 10,000 North Koreans now reside in South Korea, and an estimated 40,000 North Koreans live in countries such as China.