Critical Adoption Language

Written by Kris Pak / 이영숙, Policy Director of SPEAK

‘Positive’ terms is jargon formulated by the adoption industry. These terms were developed deliberately, created to sanitize the sordid adoption industry. Origins Canada has responded with Honest Adoption Language which seeks to correct them.

The italicized words are used in legal contexts . The one in yellow are ok in certain contexts. The red ones are offensive. The bold text indicates terms that are either condemned or in common use by consensus of the subject of the term. Although most of the HAL language is in line with critical adoption language (and owes much to that lexicon), there are some points of departure or expansions on the concepts. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-01 at 7.57.55 PMHere are some other words and phrases not addressed by Positive Adoption Language, but common in the discourse:

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This is a list in a context related to those adopted overseas from Korea, but who now have migrated back to live in their motherland. In some instances they could be applied to other country contexts. 

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Although it should be obvious why these words and phrases are problematic or preferred, I’ll offer one example explanation.

“Waiting child” means that the child will never be reunited with her family or his relatives; adoption is presented as inevitable. “Adoptable” or “Available” child labels the child (the product of a transaction) truthfully as a minor whose parents’ rights have been terminated or laundered away by calling the child “orphaned.” 

These lists are incomplete. For example, notice how “orphan” is not addressed by anyone. Almost no adoptions occur because a child has no living relatives, and very very few because a child has no living parents; “orphan” has been co-opted by the adoption industry to mean that a child has just one living parent. Adoptions do occur because adults do not have living heirs, sometimes even adults are legally adopted by other adults.

Explaining and defining each term and why it is preferred or a problem should be undertaken by the adoption community. This project is about carefully discussing, considering, debating, and thinking them through as the first step in compiling an honest and politically conscious lexicon that can be used in discourse and in other languages, especially our mother languages.

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