Adam Crapser vs. Republic of Korea and Holt International: “Obvious international human rights violations”

A Korean human rights advocate has published an article claiming multiple ways that both the Korean government and Holt International allegedly violated the human rights of a Korean adoptee, including “flagrant infringements,” “unlawful acts” of negligence, and more.

Lee Kyeung-eun, the director of Human Rights Beyond Borders), has written an article published today in The Korea Times about Korean adoptee Adam Crapser’s January 2019 petition against the Korean government and Holt Children’s Services Inc. for allegedly violating his rights during his adoption process. “Although the plaintiff’s story garnered worldwide media attention, his lawsuit represents a historic legal first..this petition is the first and only attempt by an inter-country adoptee to hold the Korean government accountable for failing to uphold its duty in such an adoption.” 

The article calls on more Koreans and more adoptees to be aware of the case: “the claims of this case are not isolated to the plaintiff (Adam Crapser). On the contrary, they represent wider harms perpetrated against most Korean adoptees. Hence, more people ― especially adoptees ― should know more about this case.”

Beyond that, the article then examines the claims against the Korean government and Holt Children’s Services Inc., and their lack of accountability,”  and does so in strong, provocative terms.

This petition filed by Shin Song-hyuk (better known as Adam Crapser) is the first and only attempt by an inter-country adoptee to hold the Korean government accountable for failing to uphold its duty in such an adoption. Courtesy of Lee Kyung-eun
This petition filed by Shin Song-hyuk (better known as Adam Crapser) is the first and only attempt by an inter-country adoptee to hold the Korean government accountable for failing to uphold its duty in such an adoption. Courtesy of Lee Kyung-eun

“The plaintiff has suffered the following rights violations: the right to know and preserve his true identity due to the fraudulent falsification of his orphan registration (a birth registration reserved for children without their parents’ information); damages from physical, mental and emotional abuse inflicted in the course of the adoption, the dissolution of the adoption and the consequential multiple moves to other homes and the effects of those events; violation of the right to acquire and have the nationality of his adoptive country; violation of personality rights and the right to pursue happiness due to deportation.

The plaintiff’s rights have been violated by a number of unlawful acts committed through the cooperative efforts of the government of the Republic of Korea and Holt Children’s Services Inc. The charges against the defendants are as follows:

Alleged illegal acts of Republic of Korea:

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. The government had a duty to execute this crucial step by ensuring that a relevant authority would verify the legitimacy of the adoption agencies’ procedures. However, it failed to do so, thereby being in severe dereliction of duty. 

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. 

Alleged illegal acts of Holt Children’s Services Inc.:

Holt is among the original four accredited adoption agencies authorized by the government to engage exclusively in inter-country adoptions from Korea for foreign adoptive parents. The original intent of granting such exclusive power should have been to secure the protection and welfare of children adopted abroad. However, rather than fulfilling this aim, it abused its power and engaged in gross child rights violations to reap financial benefits from its adoption business. 

In the case of the plaintiff, despite knowing about the existence of the mother and father, Holt proceeded to provide fraudulent information to the registry office to register the plaintiff as an abandoned orphan.

The allegations are: negligence in the conduct of its duty to serve as a guardian and protect the children under its care; illegally relinquishing and transferring guardianship to the agencies of the receiving countries; failure to execute its obligations to provide support in the acquisition of citizenship for adoptees and to verify the acquisition in accordance with the relevant laws of the receiving countries.

These claims are obvious international human rights violations that expose the shortcomings of the Korean government to uphold international standards and safeguards to protect the rights of children in adoption. However, as the lawsuit was filed with the Korean Civil Court, the petition remains limited to the national legal protections available at the time of the wrongdoing. Even under these circumstances, the defendants’ flagrant infringements of the plaintiff’s rights constitute serious transgressions.”

Read the entire article here. This is apparently the first in a series of articles about the amicus brief submitted to the court as expert testimony. The case is still pending in court.

As this article suggests, the case has enormous potential ramifications for adoptees around the globe.

Facebook Page of Our “Lions Roaring” Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees

I am happy to invite you to “Like” and follow the new Facebook page for our soon-to-be published anthology, “Lions Roaring Far From Home.” The link is here. Thank you!

The anthology, the first of its kind, has essays and poems from 32 Ethiopian adoptees who are of different ages and who were raised in different countries. The cover art (shared below; reveal here) is by Ethiopian artist Nahosenay Negussie.

On the Facebook page, we will provide info about pre-order and publication as soon as it is available. We will also be posting excerpts from the book, pre-publication reviews by some amazing folks, and info about upcoming “Meet the Writers” Zooms and other events.

Thanks so much for visiting and Liking the Facebook page! Please share with others. We really appreciate the support.

When Adoptees’ Birth Countries Are Torn By War

When an international adoptee’s country of origin (birth country, homeland, Motherland) is torn by war or other horrific tragedies, the impact on the adoptee is, I’d think, powerful and complicated.

Here is a thoughtful, poignant essay by Katya Reach, a Russian-Ukrainian adoptee. The essay is called “Caught in the Middle.”

An excerpt:

“I look to my left and mourn the suffering of the displaced Ukrainian people who I hav personal connections with…I look to my right and see my very own birth family also suffering and hiding for dear life in bomb shelters and basements…”

Katy’s essay was posted on Facebook on Inter Country Adoption News, a valuable resource for anyone interested in international adoption news, especially from the perspective of adoptees.

I am grateful that Katya decided to write and publish her essay, because it is so critical to hear from adoptees on such an important subject.

The National Council for Adoption on March 16 held a free webinar “Supporting people in the adoption community with roots in Russia and Ukraine.” Their website notes that “As the crisis has unfolded in Ukraine, NCFA is aware that adopted individuals with roots in Ukraine and Russia are grieving and grappling with how to process these events.” They also posted a list of resources for the adoptees and their families; this link will direct you to the resources and to the taped webinar.

All of that is beneficial. My heart is with these adoptees and their families, here and in Ukraine and Russia.

Why, though, has NCFA done nothing like this for Ethiopian adoptees, whose country has been engaged in a devastating civil war since November 2020?

No webinar. No list of resources. No panel of experts “to provide guidance and clinical expertise for navigating this challenging time.”

Why is that?

I wrote about this puzzling discrepancy here. I have also heard that the Washington Post is writing an article about how the war has affected Russian and Ukrainian adoptees, and again I say: that is great, valuable, and needed.

I wish that Ethiopian adoptees, and their families in Ethiopia and around the world, also were considered worthy of coverage.

And of course I wish, first and foremost, that there will be peace.

An Ethiopian Adoptee Death: Heartache

Because his adoptive parents spoke publicly about his death, I am sharing the news of the March 6 passing of Mekbul Timmer, an Ethiopian adoptee. I cannot imagine the heartbreak the family is enduring, and I send the deepest of condolences.

He was adopted by Jeff and Mattie Timmer of Michigan. Jeff Timmer is a political and media consultant who works with the Lincoln Project; both Jeff and Mattie have a substantial social media presence. Jeff posted on his Twitter feed various photos and information about Mekbul, including this obituary.

The family makes no mention of suicide as a cause of death—but neither do they give any other cause. Mekbul was 18 years old, adopted from Ethiopia (per the obituary posted by Jeff Timmer) when he was 11, as best I can tell from the obituary.

Mekbul Timmer

Because the family has been so public, we will include Mekbul Timmer’s name in the Dedication of our upcoming anthology of essays by Ethiopian adoptees, “Lions Roaring Far From Home.” We are dedicating the book to all Ethiopian adoptees who have died too soon, whether by suicide or other causes. We grieve as a community.

We know also how painful and searing a death by suicide of a young person can be not only to immediate family, but also to friends. Yes, the death is painful for those left behind at any age, but teens and young adults can often struggle a great deal with confusion, grief, and even suicidal ideation themselves.

I’ve written several times about adoption and suicide. I know it is a difficult topic at best. As a society, we are not good at talking about it. The popular narrative of adoption does not allow much room for adoptees who love their adoptive families and still struggle with depression or trauma. It doesn’t allow much room for adoptees who were failed or abused by their adoptive families either, and who deal with suicidal ideation.

Last October, I facilitated a webinar via United Suicide Survivors International called “Adoption and Suicide Prevention: Adult Adoptees Speak Out.” The powerful speakers were Jessenia Parmer, Amanda Transue-Woolston, Kevin Barhydt, and Lynelle Long. You can find the video of the webinar here.

United Suicide Survivors International has many excellent webinars and resources. Another resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255, available 24/7. The K-12 School Suicide Prevention info from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention may be useful also. Check out “How to Talk About Suicide” from Indian Health Services, There are “Resources for Youth and Suicide Prevention” on the page as well.

Jeff Timmer posted a thank you to the thousands of people across social media who expressed condolences. He included, “Please just love your kids and those close to you.” Absolutely.

I will add this, and I know it’s painful to even think about: Please learn and talk about suicide prevention with those you love.

May Mekbul rest in power and in peace. May his memory be a blessing.

NCFA on Wars and Webinars: Ethiopian, Russian, and Ukrainian Adoptees

Why is the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) holding a webinar for families with Russian and Ukrainian adoptions, yet has not held anything for families with Ethiopian adoptions?

The NCFA Facebook page says: “As the crisis has unfolded in Ukraine, NCFA is aware that adopted individuals with roots in Ukraine and Russia, and their families, are grieving and grappling with how to process these events.” NCFA is hosting a free webinar next week, “Supporting People in the Adoption Community with Roots in Ukraine and Russia,” with a panel of adoption agency professionals to provide guidance and expertise. This could be valuable and important for these families; I respect, applaud, and support that.

I am curious though.

Ethiopia has been experiencing a horrific civil war since November 2020. NCFA has held no webinars offering guidance and resources for Ethiopian adoptive families. Why is that?

From the BBC:

“In Ethiopia, the last 16 months have been hell.

In the north of the country, as a result of a conflict in Tigray, more than two million people have been forced from their homes.

In addition hundreds of thousands face starvation, and the government has been accused of blocking deliveries of aid and essential medicines – something it denies.

There is mounting evidence that war crimes may have been committed by both sides, include mass killings and widespread use of rape as a weapon of war.

On the scale of human suffering it is surely on a par with anything else that is grabbing the world’s attention.”

Why has NCFA, by their own description the “leading expert on adoption issues, providing resources and education for all people and organizations in the adoption world,” been totally silent on Ethiopia? There are some 15,000 Ethiopian adoptees in the United States, and thousands more around the globe.

Yet NCFA has offered nothing for them or their families.

Many Ethiopian adoptees are deeply worried about their Ethiopian families. Many have family members who have been killed, maimed, and starved. Many adoptive parents struggle to explain the complexity and devastation of the war to their adopted children. Ethiopian adopted individuals and their families, like the families with children from Russia and Ukraine, “are grieving and grappling with how to process these events.” NCFA’s webinar will host adoption agency representatives (not, as best I can tell, adopted adults from or citizens of those countries) to provide the insights and leadership.

Adoptions from Ethiopia ended in 2018. Adoptions from Russia ended in 2013. Adoptions from Ukraine are still happening, though the numbers have been increasingly low and obviously the situation is very complicated now.

NCFA will, in this upcoming webinar, “provide guidance and clinical expertise for navigating this challenging time” for the Russian and Ukrainian families.

But not, apparently, for families with Ethiopian adoptions.

Why is that?

You can ask NCFA directly here:

Phone: (703) 299-6633
Media Line: (703) 718-5375
Emailncfa@adoptioncouncil.org

“Lions Roaring Far From Home” Anthology by Ethiopian Adoptees: Cover Reveal

We are delighted to share the cover of our upcoming anthology, “Lions Roaring Far From Home.” The artist is Nahosenay Negussie.

© Lions Roaring Artwork by Nahosenay Negussie

Nahosenay Negussie is an astonishingly talented artist based in Addis Ababa. Nahosenay has had many well-received international shows, and his work has been commissioned globally. His paintings are full of rich colors and textual details; the style has been compared to Gustav Klimt in its energy.

I met Nahosenay in 2016 when a group of artists and writers traveled together with authors Jane Kurtz and Caroline Kurtz, American sisters who grew up in Maji, Ethiopia. Jane has written several books with Ethiopia themes, and she developed the Ready Set Go books for Ethiopian children via Ethiopia Reads and Open Hearts Big Dreams. During that 2016 trip, Nahosenay was a stellar role model for children, teaching them art and encouraging their skills. One example is the illustrations for Talk Talk Turtle, the first Ready Set Go book, which has been published in English as well as Afaan Oromo, Tigrinya, and Amharic.

We feel incredibly honored to have Nahosenay’s talent and incredible imagery on the cover of our book.

“Lions Roaring Far From Home” is not yet available, and we will soon be announcing the publication date. It is a collection of essays and poems by 33 Ethiopian adoptees who live in seven countries: the US, Canada, Belgium, France, Sweden, The Netherlands, and Australia. The writers range in age from 8 years old to over 50. Each one shared their truth with insight and candor. They bring a variety of perspectives and experiences to their writing. There are themes of identity, grief, loss, joy, faith, and resilience; there are also themes of racism, suicide, anger, and hope.

We hope you enjoy this beautiful cover. Thank you, Nahosenay!

Stay tuned for more book details soon. Thank you to my wonderful co-editors, Aselefech Evans and Kassaye Berhanu-MacDonald, who also contributed powerful essays. I am so grateful to each of the writers in the anthology. Your voices—the voices of adoptees—are valuable and deeply appreciated.

Margaret Cole of European Adoption Consultants Pleads Guilty to Fraud in International Adoption

Margaret Cole of European Adoption Consultants, a now closed adoption agency in Ohio, admitted February 4, 2022, that she was guilty in the case of a child adopted fraudulently from Poland. Cole was expected to go to trial next week on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and of making false statements to Polish authorities. Two other agency staffers (Debra Parris and Robin Longoria) had already admitted guilt and will be sentenced in March. Cole will be sentenced in May.

The U.S. Justice Department issued a press release about the case. They note that “According to court documents, Margaret Cole, 74, of Strongsville, Ohio, admitted to conspiring with Debra Parris and others to deceive authorities regarding the adoption of a child from Poland.  When Cole learned that clients of the adoption agency determined they could not care for one of the two Polish children they were set to adopt, Cole and her co-conspirators took steps to transfer the Polish child to Parris’s relatives, who were not eligible for intercountry adoption.

Cole, Parris and others agreed to defraud U.S. authorities to conceal their improper transfer of the Polish child.  Following the adoption, the child was injured and hospitalized while living with Parris’s relatives. (See my note below: the child was horrifically abused.) Thereafter, Cole made a false statement to the Polish authority responsible for intercountry adoptions about the transfer of the child that, among other things, concealed the role of Cole and others in arranging the transfer of the child to Parris’s relatives.”

Last November, Debra Parris pleaded guilty to fraud in adoption from Poland and Uganda. The staffers of European Adoption Consultants had been indicted for fraud and other charges by the U.S. Justice Department last August. Cole’s trial was to begin this week. Instead, she pleaded guilty to the charge involving a child from Poland.

Sentencing for Parris will be on March 9, 2022. Cole is scheduled to be sentenced on May 27.

I hope they receive maximum sentences. I wish that the children and the families were able to receive justice as well. May they heal from this tragic crime.

Content warning: Child abuse

The child adopted from Poland was placed with John and Georgiana Tufts. John Tufts is the son of Debra Parris. John Tufts initially said he was innocent of horrific child abuse. In 2019, he was convicted. He was sentenced to 48 years in jail. I deeply grieve for that child, and for all the children and families that we do not know about who were deeply harmed by those who worked in this adoption agency.

New Novel by David Guterson about the Hana Williams’ Case

David Guterson is the prize-winning author of Snow Falling on Cedars and other books, and is also an adoptive parent of an Ethiopian child. I met him while attending the Hanna Williams’ trial here in Washington state in the summer of 2013.

Guterson has recently published a novel, The Final Case, based on Hanna’s death and the trial. I have placed a hold on it at my local library, and will post my comments here after I have read the novel.

Having attended almost every day of the trial, I have vivid memories of the people involved: the defendants Larry and Carri Williams, their children (some of whom testified at the trial), the prosecuting and the defense lawyers, the many witnesses. I have written about the trial extensively here on my blog. It will be interesting to see how much adoption as such (trauma, fraud, oversight, etc) is a part of the novel.

It is also interesting to consider the decision to write a novel as opposed to a nonfiction book about Hanna’s story. I am guessing that could be to avoid potential litigation. Beyond that, perhaps a work of fiction will bring more readers? I don’t know. The fictionalization of Hanna’s life and death gives me pause, and I am not sure just why. I look forward to reading the book. I hope Hanna is never forgotten. Maybe that is part of the book as well. May she rest in peace and in power.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Twitter Chat December 16 on Adoption and Suicide

On December 16 (December 17 in some time zones), United Suicide Survivors International will host a Twitter Chat to #ElevatetheConvo about adoption and suicide.

I am honored to be among the panelists: it is a wonderful group. The subject is a tough one, and it deserves visibility. We are all focused on suicide prevention, and on hope and strength for our community.

Please tune in!

Resources (U.S.): 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255; counselors will respond.

You can also text 24/7 to 741741; counselors will respond.

Help is available. You are not alone.

Sweden to Investigate International Adoptions

The government of Sweden is the most recent to announce that it will investigate “irregularities” in the last 60 years of international adoptions, focusing in particular on China and Chile.

Around 60,000 children have been adopted to Sweden, most originally from South Korea, India, Colombia, and Sri Lanka.

Results of the investigation are expected to be released in November 2023.

In February 2021, The Netherlands froze international adoptions after adult adoptees raised concerns about adoptions from Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. A government commission found some adoptions, dating back to the 1960’s and through the 1990’s, where children had been stolen or bought.

An additional article about Sweden’s investigations from February 2021 is available here.