House Passes Adoption Bill

US lawmakers vote to remove barriers for adopting North Korean refugee orphans.

Malnourished children in North Korea's North Hamgyong Province, June 20, 2008.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill aimed at streamlining procedures for American families wanting to adopt North Korean orphans, termed as “some of the world’s most endangered children.”

The North Korean Refugee Adoption Act, adopted on Tuesday, directs U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, to develop a strategy to “facilitate the adoption of North Korean refugee children” by families in the U.S.

The legislation also requires that the State Department issue a report to Congress on that strategy within 180 days of its enactment.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that while many North Koreans face extreme repression, malnutrition, and poverty, those threats often take the greatest toll on the country’s children.

Thousands of North Koreans facing starvation and disease have fled the country and now live as refugees in China, Mongolia, Thailand and other Southeast Asia nations where they remain susceptible to human trafficking and are at risk of being repatriated and facing persecution.

“Imagine what happens when a child’s natural protectors—parents—are no longer in the picture. And imagine what happens when that child is born or orphaned inside China where the child lacks legal status, or dependable access to social services,” she said.

“Malnutrition, abuse, exploitation, lack of education—these are the horrors that are faced by orphans of North Korean origin who are effectively stateless and without protection.”

She went on to say that the U.S. is home to the largest Korean ethnic population outside of Northeast Asia and that many of the nearly two million Americans of Korean descent have family ties to North Korea.

“Numerous American families would like to provide caring homes to these stateless North Korean orphans,” she said.

The legislation “is a responsible first step towards making that possible.”

It was co-sponsored by Republican Representative Ed Royce and Democratic lawmaker Howard Berman.  A similar bill is being considered by a Senate panel.

‘At great risk’

Ros-Lehtinen said that the bill would require the State Department to “take a broad look” at the diplomatic and documentation challenges facing American families who seek to adopt the refugee orphans.

“Doing the right thing is not always easy. I especially want to applaud those adoptive parents—both past and future—who invest their own lives and homes to provide loving families for some of the world’s most endangered children,” she said.

Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. has a moral obligation to help North Koreans suffering rights abuses.

“As innocent men, women, and children flee the repressive North Korean regime at great personal risk, we have a moral obligation to assist them,” he said.

“This bill, H.R. 1464, is not merely about adoption, but also an issue of human rights for the North Korean people.”

The State Department’s most recent annual report on human trafficking kept North Korea at the lowest ranking of all nations, citing estimates that as many of 70 percent of the thousands of undocumented North Korean refugees in China are females, many of whom are trafficking victims.

Most commonly, women and girls from one of North Korea’s poorest border areas cross into China and are then sold and re-sold as “brides.”

Aid workers estimate that there are some 2,000 "defector orphans" in China, with a possible total of 30,000 North Korean defectors living in hiding, mostly driven over the border to look for food and work.

"Stateless orphans," on the other hand, are born out of relationships between North Korean women and Chinese men, with their mothers subsequently deported to North Korea.

"Stateless orphans" are currently believed to number 10,000-20,000, and are unable to get an education because they lack official Chinese papers. Late registration of children without papers costs 5,000 yuan (U.S. $790), around three times the monthly salary of the average Chinese person, aid workers said.

Reported by Joshua Lipes.

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