After Amerasians and Japinos, who are Kopinos?
First there were the Amerasians: those born of Filipina mothers and American servicemen who were stationed in the former U.S. military bases in the Philippines. A sizable number of the mothers worked in bars and clubs in the provinces of Clark and Subic. Number of Amerasian kids: more than 50,000.
Then there were the Japinos, or Japanese-Filipinos. Number: around 200,000. They were born to Japanese fathers and Filipina mothers at a time when Japan’s economy was booming in the 80s. Many Filipinas worked as entertainers in Japan, and many Japanese visited the Philippines for business or pleasure.
The stories of Amerasians and Japinos share a common thread: many were abandoned by their fathers, and the mothers struggled to raise the children by themselves.
The kids became the object of discrimination, some because of their looks, most because of the stigma of their parentage. Many children went through a crisis of identity, and the dream of finding their fathers and getting paternal support was next to impossible.
EMERGENCE OF KOPINOS
In recent years, a new phenomenon of mixed-race children is being added to this list: the Kopinos, or Korean-Filipinos. Estimated number: 10,000.
A number of factors may explain the emergence of Kopinos. Data from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) show that South Korea is the seventh top destination for Filipino emigrants from 2003 to 2012. As the 15th strongest economy in the world based on World Bank data, South Korea is a magnet for those in search of better opportunities.
The booming economy has also allowed Koreans more mobility. Koreans have replaced the Japanese as the country's top tourists. Figures from the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) from January to April 2014 show that South Korea is the top visitor market to the Philippines, ahead of the U.S., China and Japan.
And yet many Kopino children are living in poverty. In a nondescript neighborhood in Quezon City stands a shelter for Kopino kids abandoned by their fathers. The organization, the Kopino Children Association, was founded by a Filipina teacher and trainor, Normi Son, who is married to a Korean. Because of the cost of running the shelter, the couple can afford to take in only 15 Kopinos at a time. The kids are housed, fed and sent to school for free. The Sons fund the shelter through their own money and through donations.
As wife of a Korean national, Normi has impressions as to why Kopinos are victims of discrimination. “It’s not just an issue of blood. It also has to do with economic standing. If I were an American, I would be regarded differently in Korea,” Normi explained in Filipino.
There are mixed views as to whether or not Kopinos should search for their fathers in the hope of getting child support. Dawn, a 20-year-old Kopino, has long given up on the search for her father. She says a father will support his child if he wants to, but if not, there is no love lost, she said. “I made it on my own. I didn’t need him. So mothers of other Kopino kids shouldn’t rely on the fathers,” Dawn said in Filipino.
But 15-year-old Rachel is still hopeful she will find her father. She is actually a passport-carrying Korean citizen, but was left behind when she was 3 years old. She just arrived at the Kopino shelter from Baguio City and hopes to get support for her college education.
RIGHTS OF KOPINOS
The process of getting support from Korean fathers will not be easy. Even if the parents are married in the Philippines, the union is not recognized in Korea. The father must first decide to include the child’s name in the official family register in Korea.
Recently, a Filipina won a paternity suit against a Korean in a landmark court ruling. The case was filed in December 2012, and through DNA testing and birth certificates from the Philippines, the court declared the Korean as the biological father of two Kopinos. This may pave the way for child support if the decision is upheld by the Supreme Court.
The Kopino Children Association does not view this case as a victory for other Kopinos. Normi Son said there is a stigma attached to Korean men who get embroiled in these cases, which may lead to loss of face and livelihood. She said this could be detrimental especially if the father already has a family in Korea. She believes parties must talk out-of-court. In the meantime, livelihood programs must be in place to help the mothers and their Kopino kids.
But for ECPAT Philippines (an NGO which stands for End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking), the legal course should be observed. ECPAT Korea was one of the groups that helped the Filipina mother in the paternity suit.
ECPAT Philippines head social worker Trinidad Maneja said that while taking the case to court may lead to serious consequences for the father, Kopino children must be protected. “As enshrined in United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child, every child is entitled to a name and nationality,” Maneja explained.
Some officials and lawmakers in South Korea are looking into the growing concern for Kopinos. But as with previous experiences, this new generation of mixed-race children have to make do on their own for now.