The Sad Plight of Abandoned “Kopino” Children in the Philippines

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I have been watching old episodes of I-witness, an award-winning documentary program in the Philippines, and chanced upon one episode that featured Kopino children abandoned by their Korean fathers. I remember watching a documentary in Korea about the same topic a few years ago. My husband and I watched that show together. My husband is Korean, but as we were listening to the lachrymose stories of the Filipina women and their Kopino children, he kept shaking his head in disapproval and making comments against the Korean fathers who ran away from their responsibilities.

Kopino or 코피노 is a term for Korean-Filipino children. There is no official data on the number of Kopinochildren in the Philippines, but every now and then, we hear stories of Kopinos abandoned by their fathers. In an article published in The Korea Herald in 2011, there are approximately 10,000 Kopinochildren throughout the Philippines, as estimated by the Kopino Children Foundation in Cebu. According to the foundation, most of these children live in financial difficulty, while some seek help in Kopinovillages.

In I-witness, the reporter, Sandra Aguinaldo, visited a shelter for Kopino children in Quezon City, where there are 15 children being cared for by Mr. Cedrick Son, a Korean, and his Filipina wife. The mothers of the Kopino children have been left with the responsibility of raising their kids with no support from the father, so they could not afford to send their children to a good school. With the help of Kopino Children Asociation Inc., the children are given free education. They are being taught English, Korean Languageand other subjects.

Most of the children in the shelter have never met their Korean father.

One of the children, Lorie Jin Kim, likes learning Korean. She is hoping that someday she’d meet her father and she’d be able to talk to him in Korean. Hanpil Isaac Abines wants to go to Korea, so he can be with his father.

“내 이름은 Kylla Escaniel입니다.” (I am Kylla Escaniel.) This is the first thing that Kylla would tell her father when they meet for the first time. She dreams of becoming a flight stewardess, so she can find her father on her trips. Kylla’s parents met at the mall. Her father asked for her mother’s number and their love story began. When her father found out that her mother was pregnant with her, he wanted to have her aborted. Kylla’s mother refused and decided to have her. When Kylla was born, her parents got back together, but that happiness was short-lived. After 4 years, Kylla’s father went back to Korea. While her father was away, their house caught fire. Kylla and her mother had to move to another house and they didn’t hear from her father ever since.

When asked if she thinks her father loves her, Kylla gave a big smile and said, “Yes.” When asked why she feels that way even if she has never spoken to him, her meek reply was, “Because I am his child after all.”

“How are you going to find your father?”

“I am going to search for him… with my computer.”

The little girl could not contain her sadness. Tears rolled down her eyes.

“If your father can hear you now, what do you want to tell him?”

“I hope he doesn’t forget us, and he’ll always remember that he has a child waiting for him here in the Philippines.” Kylla wiped her tears for a moment, and as if she was face to face with the man she knows only by name, she uttered these words, “아빠, 사랑 해요.” (Papa, I love you.)

Hopefully, her father will hear those words and come back for her.

The problem is that most of them never do, and the children are left with the unquenchable longing to be with a father they get to know only in dreams.

On Youtube, you can watch the episode of I-witness on Kopino children If I had enough time, I would translate everything in English, so my non-Filipino readers can understand, too… but I’m quite busy, so I won’t be able to do that. Some parts of the show are in English. I’ve also explained a few parts in this post to give you an idea of what the documentary presents.

According to Mrs. Son, the best thing they could give to abandoned Kopino children is good education. They dream that someday the Philippines and Korea will be proud of Kopinos. Although there is a growing number of multicultural families in South Korea, discrimination against multi-cultural children still happens. Mr. Son said that even if Kopinos have Korean blood in them, Korean society can’t accept them.

Here in Korea, I have met a few Kopinos. They seem to be doing well. They speak Korean fluently and act like any other Korean children. In fact, most of them can’t speak Filipino and think of themselves more as Koreans rather than Filipinos.

However, when I visited a center in Korea and observed a class of multi-cultural children, I was told by the head of the center that most of those children who come to them for free tutorials or after-school programs experience discrimination in school and in the community. Even their mothers encounter prejudice at some point. The center teaches the children and their mothers how to speak Korean fluently, so that they won’t feel and be alienated. The children are tutored and given free lessons, so they will do well in school, gain more respect from their classmates and not feel inferior around other students.

In the Philippines, there are also organizations that aim to help Kopino children, especially those abandoned by Korean fathers, but it is never the goal of these organizations to look for the children’s fathers. The issue is rather more personal, perhaps that is why the Philippine government and theKorean government can’t do much to solve it.

One of the Korean fathers of the Kopino children featured at I-witness contacted the shelter. He wanted to see his daughter and offered to support her studies until she goes to college. For the first time, after many years of waiting, Ji Nam finally met her father through Skype. It was a heartbreaking moment for Ji Nam and her father who had been searching for her all along.

If only the fathers of other abandoned Kopino children would do the same thing and take responsibility… if only… what great joy that would bring to the lives of these children.

From Korea with Love




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