Lee Jong-rak is a pastor in South Korea who also runs an orphanage for physically and mentally disabled children. This would not be especially note worthy considering there are pastors all around the world running orphanages, but Pastor Lee takes a different approach. He takes in abandoned infants through what is now known as the “Baby Box.”
Since 1998, Pastor Lee and his staff have been taking in disabled and unwanted children through an anonymous drop off called the “Baby Box.” Mothers walk up to the drop box lined with blankets and heated by a light and leave their children for Pastor Lee and his staff to give the child an opportunity to live. Every time a child is left, an alarm goes off alerting the staff to the arrival of another unwanted child. With over 3,000 orphans in South Korea, Pastor Lee believes they are saving the lives.
At first, he was unsure if the strategy to rescue these children would even work. But, sure enough, for over 10 years they saw 2-3 babies every month dropped off in the Baby Box. Then something dramatic happened in August 2012. South Korea changed their adoption laws, making it more difficult to get unwanted babies adopted.
In Korean culture, much like other conservative Asian cultures, an imperfect family is a sign of shame. So deformed children or children born out of wedlock are looked down upon. In an attempt to minimize the number of international adoptions and keep children in South Korea, the government passed laws making it illegal to adopt unregistered children. Mothers were left to either face their families or dispose of their children. One mother even left Pastor Lee a note saying she considered killing herself and the baby with poison – until she heard about the baby box.
Government officials claim that the baby box is now illegal, in light of the new adoption laws. They feel the mothers should turn the children over to the state by registering them. But Pastor Lee believes these mothers would rather see the children die than face the shame of admitting their mistakes.
“There is nothing illegal about saving someone’s life,” says Lee.
He also faces criticism from other religious leaders who believe he is encouraging mothers to abandon their children. They believe Pastor Lee is too narrow minded and can not see how his baby box is actually creating a problem. Lee does not worry about his critics, he believes that he is providing freedom to children that would otherwise be doomed.
After receiving the babies, his staff takes the infants to the children’s hospital. If they are healthy they are sent to an orphanage where they will move around until adopted. In the case of unregistered children, they are rarely adopted. Lee’s hope is that one day, his efforts to save these children will end with them finding a good home. For those that suffer severe disabilities, Pastor Lee can take them into his orphanage.
Do you think Pastor Lee is doing the right thing or is he adding to the abandonment of these children through his baby box?