Nearly 300 people call on South Korea to investigate their overseas adoptions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Nearly 300 South Koreans who were adopted by European and American parents as children have so far filed petitions asking the South Korean government to investigate their adoptions, which they suspect were based on falsified documents that whitewashed their real status or identities as agencies raced to export children.

The Denmark-based group representing adoptees also called on South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to stop agencies from destroying records as they face increasing scrutiny of their practices during a boom in overseas adoption that peaked in the 1980s.

The 283 applications submitted to Seoul’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission through Tuesday outline numerous complaints of lost or distorted biological origins, highlighting a deepening rift between the world’s largest adoptee diaspora and their home countries. originated decades after dozens of Korean children were neglectfully removed from their families.

Peter Møller, a lawyer and co-founder of Danish Korean Rights Group, said he also plans to sue two Seoul-based agencies – Holt Children’s Services and Korea Social Services – for their refusal to fully open their cases to adoptees.

While agencies often cite privacy issues with birth parents to justify restricted access, Møller accuses them of making up excuses to dodge questions about their practices as adoptees increasingly express frustration over details limited of their adoption papers which often turn out to be inaccurate or falsified. .

Last month, Møller’s group initially filed applications from 51 Danish adoptees asking the commission to investigate their adoptions, which were handled by Holt and KSS.

The move caught the attention of Korean adoptees around the world, prompting the group to expand its campaign to Holt and KSS adoptees outside of Denmark. The 232 additional claims filed on Tuesday included 165 cases from Denmark, 36 cases from the United States and 31 combined cases from Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.

The commission, which was set up in December 2020 to investigate human rights atrocities under the military governments that ruled South Korea from the 1960s to the 1980s, must decide in three or four months whether to open or not an investigation of applications filed by adoptees. If so, it could trigger the most thorough investigation into foreign adoptions in the country, which has never fully come to terms with the child export spree staged by its former military leaders.

As the deadline for the commission to submit applications comes in December, Møller said his group will try to persuade the commission to accept more adoptions from adoptees on a rolling basis if it decides to investigate the cases. .

“There are many more adoptees who have written to us, called us, been in contact with us. They are afraid to submit to this case because they fear that the adoption agencies will burn the original documents and retaliate,” Møller said. He said such concerns are greatest among adoptees who have found agencies have changed identities to replace other children who have died, become too ill to travel, or been picked up by Korean families before they can be sent to adopters. Westerners.

Holt and KSS did not immediately comment on the nominations.

About 200,000 South Koreans have been adopted overseas over the past six decades, mostly by white parents in the United States and Europe and mostly during the 1970s and 1980s.

South Korean military leaders at the time saw adoptions as a way to reduce the number of mouths to feed, solve the « problem » of single mothers and deepen ties with the democratic West.

They established special laws to promote overseas adoptions, which effectively allowed licensed private agencies to circumvent proper child abandonment practices while exporting large numbers of children to the West. year after year.

Most South Korean adoptees sent overseas were registered by agencies as legal orphans found abandoned on the streets, although they often had parents who could be easily identified or traced. This practice often makes their roots difficult or impossible to trace.

Some adoptees say they discovered that agencies had changed identities to replace other children who died or became too ill to travel, which aggravates their sense of loss and sometimes leads to false reunions with parents who turn out to be strangers.

It wasn’t until 2013 that the South Korean government required foreign adoptions to go through family courts, ending a policy allowing agencies to dictate child abandonment, custody transfer, and transfer. emigration for decades.

Kim Tong-hyung, Associated Press


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