The Fiction of the North Korean Refugee Orphan, by Christine Hong

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article by Christine Hong has stirred a good deal of controversy. We believe it is an important analysis of a wrong-headed approach to human rights. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site., where we invite you to read also the comments that have been posted there, for example by LiNK, an organization that is referenced in this article. –CanKor]

Recently fast-tracked to the House floor, HR 1464 (“The North Korean Refugee Adoption Act of 2011”) has passed the House.[i] Exploiting the rhetoric of humanitarian rescue, the bill identifies North Korean hunger as the problem and proposes U.S. adoption of North Korean children as the solution, making the figure of the hungry North Korean orphan a matter of U.S. legislative concern. Yet this bill recklessly turns on the fiction of the “North Korean refugee orphan,” construing the latter as a child without nationality, in order to authorize the acceleration of U.S. adoption procedures through “alternative mechanisms.” Although the bill purports to help “thousands of North Korean children [who] do not have families and are threatened with starvation and disease if they remain in North Korea or as stateless refugees in surrounding countries,”[ii] its truth can be found in its preamble, which supposes that “thousands of United States citizens would welcome the opportunity to adopt North Korean orphans living outside North Korea.”

Suturing its loose definitional categories together, this legislation seeks to establish, as a precedent, the category of “statelessness” as a flexible definitional vehicle by way of which inter-country adoption can be expedited and international laws meant to safeguard the rights of children and families circumvented. Aimed not at resolving North Korean hunger, much less the well-being of the children whom it willfully misrepresents, this bill lays the task of “identify[ing] other nations in which large numbers of stateless, orphaned children are living who might be helped by international adoption” at the doorstep of the State Department. Read the rest of this entry »

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