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Advocating for North Korean Children: H.R. 1464 Becomes Law

by | January 21st, 2013 | 07:00 am
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On Inauguration Day—and with the Russians being obstreperous on the issue–it is appropriate to focus on new legislation aimed at protecting stateless North Korean children.  On January 14, President Obama signed H.R. 1464 (reproduced in full below), the North Korean Child Welfare Act of 2012.

With backing from Korean-American NGOs, the legislation was first sponsored in 2010 and again in 2011 by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), who now chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It was initially called the North Korean Child Adoption Act. The earlier bill sought to open the door to adoption—and through adoption presumably to family reunification—from sending countries where the orphans were either living or even where they are citizens. The old and the new bills both make reference to the Hague Convention of 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (full convention and summary here), of which some relevant parties are members (China) and others aren’t (Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, where some refugees have also pooled).

To be honest, we were of mixed minds about the earlier bill, which focused more centrally on adoption. There are of course real North Korean orphans living in China; children whose parents have died either in China or North Korea. But some of the children in question are what we called “manufactured orphans.” They have been living with one or even both parents, but then China “manufactures” stateless kids through at least three routes:

  • by failing to give Korean wives of Chinese men and their children citizenship;
  • by forcing North Korean refugee women to flee to third countries “temporarily” in hope of later retrieving their children;
  • or worse still, by throwing refugee women back into the North Korean prison system. North Korea purportedly refuses to take children of such marriages since they dilute  the country’s racial  purity.

The most logical response to this problem would be for China to legalize the presence of these refugees and abide by its commitments under the Refugee Convention. The ideal would be to encourage foster parenting or efforts to reunite these children with their parents. Adoption should be seen as a last recourse in the case where parents really cannot be located or—worse still—have become victims of the Chinese or North Korean prison system.

The new bill takes a somewhat wider approach than the earlier one. Noting the miserable state of North Korean children both inside and outside North Korea, the Act calls on the Secretary of State to designate a representative to regularly brief Congress on U.S. efforts to advocate for the best interests of “North Korean children and children of one North Korean parent, including efforts to address the adoption of such children living outside North Korea without parental care.”

The bill outlines five particular tasks for its designee:

  • analysis of the challenges facing children of one North Korean parent in other countries who are fleeing persecution or are living as de jure or de facto stateless persons;
  • efforts to advocate for the best interest of such children, including family reunification efforts and adoption;
  • efforts to address challenges that U.S. citizens would encounter in attempting to adopt such North Korean children;
  • diplomatic efforts to encourage countries in which this class of North Korean children are living to resolve issues of statelessness, presumably through UNHCR or national processes that would grant asylum status;
  • efforts to work with the Republic of Korea to establish pilot programs that assist in the family reunification of such North Korean children, including those with a North Korean parent that has made it to the South. l

As the stilted language defining the relevant population suggests, this is an ambitious but complicated agenda, no doubt modified from earlier versions by concerns that some “adoptions” amount to little more than child trafficking. Yet the language clearly shows respect for these concerns.  Getting Beijing to buy in is a very long shot. But the legislation will hold the spotlight on the issue and could make real gains with respect to third countries. We are for it.

HR. 1464. The North Korean Child Welfare Act of 2012

To express the sense of Congress regarding North Korean children and children of one North Korean parent and to require the Department of State regularly to brief appropriate congressional committees on efforts to advocate for and develop a strategy to provide assistance in the best interest of these children.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the ‘‘North Korean Child Welfare Act of 2012’’.

SEC. 2. SENSE OF CONGRESS.

It is the sense of Congress that—

(1) hundreds of thousands of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition in North Korea, and North Korean children or children of one North Korean parent who are living outside of North Korea may face statelessness in neighboring countries; and

(2) the Secretary of State should advocate for the best interests of these children, including, when possible, facilitating immediate protection for those living outside North Korea through family reunification or, if appropriate and eligible in individual cases, domestic or international adoption.

SEC. 3. DEFINITIONS.

In this Act:

(1) APPROPRIATE CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES.—The term ‘‘appropriate congressional committees’’ means the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives.

(2) HAGUE COUNTRY.—The term ‘‘Hague country’’ means a country where the Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, done at The Hague May 29, 1993, has entered into force and is fully implemented.

(3) NON-HAGUE COUNTRY.—The term ‘‘non-Hague country’’ means a country where the Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, done at The Hague May 29, 1993, has not entered into force.

SEC. 4. BRIEFINGS ON THE WELFARE OF NORTH KOREAN CHILDREN.

(a) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary of State shall designate a representative to regularly brief the appropriate congressional committees in an unclassified setting on United States Government efforts to advocate for the best interests of North Korean children and children of one North Korean parent, including efforts to address, when appropriate, the adoption of such children living outside North Korea without parental care.

(b) CONTENTS.—The Secretary’s designee shall be prepared to address in each briefing the following topics:

(1) The analysis of the Department of State of the challenges facing North Korean children residing outside North Korea and challenges facing children of one North Korean parent in other countries who are fleeing persecution or are living as de jure or de facto stateless persons.

(2) Department of State efforts to advocate for the best interest of North Korean children residing outside North Korea or children of one North Korean parent living in other countries who are fleeing persecution or are living as de jure or de facto stateless persons, including, when possible, efforts to address the immediate care and family reunification of these children, and, in individual cases where appropriate, the adoption of eligible North Korean children living outside North Korea and children of one North Korean parent living outside North Korea.

(3) Department of State efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy to address challenges that United States citizens would encounter in attempting to adopt, via intercountry adoption, North Korean-origin children residing in other countries or children of one North Korean parent residing outside North Korea who are fleeing persecution or are living as de jure or de facto stateless persons, including efforts to overcome the complexities involved in determining jurisdiction for best interest determinations and adoption processing, if appropriate, of those who habitually reside in a Hague country or a non-Hague country.

(4) Department of State diplomatic efforts to encourage countries in which North Korean children or children of one North Korean parent are fleeing persecution or reside as de jure or de facto stateless persons to resolve issues of statelessness of North Koreans residing in that country.

(5) Department of State efforts to work with the Government of the Republic of Korea to establish pilot programs that identify, provide for the immediate care of, and assist in the family reunification of North Korean children and children of one North Korean parent living within South Korea and other countries who are fleeing persecution or are living as de jure or de facto stateless persons.