The Korean Court’s Ruling On the Government Role in Adoptee’s Lawsuit

When the South Korean court ruled this week on the case of adoptee Adam Crapser’s lawsuit, they agreed with some of the allegations against Holt Children’s Services, the adoption agency. The court did not agree with any of the allegations against the government of the Republic of Korea,

According to Lee Kyung-eun (Ph.D. in law), director of Human Rights Beyond Borders, in a March 2022 Korean Times article, these were the allegations about illegal acts by the Korean government:

  • Negligence of its duty to protect its national in the process of inter-country adoption.
  • Unconstitutional use of proxy adoptions, a practice stipulated in the Adoption Special Procedure Act.
  • Negligence of its duty to monitor and audit the practices of adoption agencies.
  • Violation of its obligation to perform due diligence in the process of allowing children to leave the country to be adopted transnationally.
  • Failure to monitor and verify the citizenship acquisition of inter-country adoptees, as prescribed by law.
  • Negligence of its obligation to fulfill post-adoption monitoring of the plaintiff’s adoption.
  • Failure to uphold the international norms that seek to prevent financial gain by allowing the inclusion of such unethical practices in the implementation ordinance of the Special Adoption Procedure Act. 

The court did not hold the Korean government liable any of the allegations in the case of Adam Crapser’s adoption.

Some detailed information about the court decision is available on the Facebook page of Banet, a group for Korean adoptees searching for relatives.

A few points from Banet’s analysis of the court decision:

Because Korea has not ratified The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, it cannot be held responsible for failing to abide by it.

The Korean government had responsibility only for making the procedures possible for adoption. It gave responsibility and authority for supervising the adoption process to the adoption agencies iIn this case, Holt Children’s Services).

The Korean government has no liability as to where the adoptee was placed and with whom. Those decisions were handled by the adoption agency.

While the plaintiff alleged that adoption by proxy is illegal, the court said the Korean Congress made adoption laws, and allowed adoption by proxy.

While the government may not have known about illegal activities or may not have brought disciplinary action against adoption agencies, the government nonetheless did not breach its duty to supervise the agencies.

The government accepted the decision of the state of Michigan regarding the suitability of Crapser’s first adoptive parents.

I am not a lawyer. Nor am I an expert on any of this, and certainly not about Korean adoption law in the late ’70’s, when Adam Crapser was adopted. This legal decision by the South Korean court will, no doubt, be scrutinized by adoptees, adoption agencies, and government agencies responsible for intercountry adoptions.

This is, as far as I know, the first significant decision regarding a Korean adoptee placed in the United States. Adoptions from South Korea began in the 1950’s, and Korean adoptees are the largest group of international adoptees (estimates range from 150,000 to 200,000 adoptees, mostly placed in the US). Some folks see this lawsuit as an important step in the right direction; others think it will be inconsequential. Perhaps the Korean government is relieved; perhaps adoption agencies and other governments are thinking about what lies ahead for them.

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