Orphan Definition, Deportation, and Governments’ Responsibilities to Ensure Citizenship: The Amicus Brief from the Case of Adam Crapser/Shin Song-hyuk v. the Republic of Korea and Holt International


A Korean adoptee’s case against the Korean government and against Holt International adoption agency is slowly making its way through the Korean legal system. It could have significant ramifications for international adoption.

From the Korea Time’s article March 22, 2022, “Adam Crapser v. Republic of Korea:”

“On Jan. 24, 2019, Shin Song-hyuk (better known as Adam Crapser), internationally adopted from Korea to the United States, filed a petition with the Seoul Central District Court against the Korean government and Holt Children’s Services Inc. for violating his rights during his adoption process. Although the plaintiff’s story garnered worldwide media attention, his lawsuit represents a historic legal first. Referred to as case number 2019 GA-HAP 502520 (because Korea does not include the parties involved in the names of legal cases), 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.”

According to the article, Adam Crapser/Shin Song-hyuk filed allegations against both the government of South Korea and against the Holt adoption agency:

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.”

The petition, filed over three years ago, is still being considered in the Korean court system. I am not a lawyer and have no expertise about the Korean legal process, but I’d guess one reason this is taking so long is because of the potentially enormous ramifications of the court’s decision not only for Adam Crapser, but for all Korean adoptees and for international adoption generally.

A Korean human rights lawyer, Lee Kyung-eun (Ph.D. in law), has recently published three articles in the Korea Times. The articles include excerpts from a 70-page amicus brief designed “to assist the judges in understanding the historic meaning of this case.”

Lee Kyung-eun is the director of Human Rights Beyond Borders and author of the Korean-language book, “The Children-selling Country,” and the English book, “The Global Orphan Adoption System; South Korea’s Impact on Its Origin and Development.”

Here are the links to the amicus brief excerpts, as published in English in the Korea Times:

Submission to court about Korea’s inter-country adoption process (part 1) April 2, 2022

Highlights: This article discusses the history of international adoption laws following the Korean War. The laws expanded and systematized what we now know as intercountry adoption processes. Among the significant points here is the creation of the legal definition of orphan. The 1961 U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act and Korea’s 1961 Special Orphan Adoption Act created policies that meant an orphan was not necessarily a child with two deceased parents. An orphan could also be a child abandoned by both parents, or a child whose one remaining parent gave up the care of the child. Thus, children could be “economic orphans” or “social orphans.”

Court Submission on the “orphan-making” process (part 2) April 9, 2022

Highlights: This article continues the discussion of the creation/relaxation of the definition of “orphan,” plus an explanation of three Korean documents designed to “obtain the final decisions of the adoption proceedings in the U.S. state courts and qualifications for (the child’s) entry to the U.S.” The documents were apparently mass-produced. “The implications…suggest that it is necessary to investigate thoroughly whether inter-country adoption was a system to find a home for orphans or to produce orphans for the sake of adoption.”

Court Submission on responsibility to verify acquisition of citizenship of inter-country adoptees (part 3) April 16, 2022

Highlights; This article discusses the obligations of Korea and of the U.S. (since this case concerns an adoptee to the U.S.) to confirm that adoptees have received citizenship in their adoptive country. There is a reference to Holt’s court documents (which as far as I know have not been published), saying Holt was unaware of such a responsibility. According to the amicus brief, “The obligation to confirm the acquisition of citizenship by an inter-country adoptee belongs to both sending and receiving countries. It is obvious not only under international norms but also under then Korean law. The failure of the Korean government and adoption agencies to fulfill such an obligation is a clear and significant human rights infringement and a violation of Korean law.”

I urge anyone interested in international adoption to read the three articles above which summarize the amicus brief. (There may be more articles to come.) Keep an eye on this case, in regard to citizenship issues for international adoptees, the deportation of adoptees rom the United States, and the definition of “orphan” for purposes of intercountry adoption. The ramifications are global.

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

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)

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.

Fraud in Adoption: A Question

I am putting together a list of countries/places where international adoptees have challenged their adoptions due to fraud, and where governments have charged, indicted, or convicted agencies or individuals for fraud, bribery, and/or corruption. This could include adoptee lawsuits for wrongful adoption.

I am aware of cases taking place in or involving adoptees from or living in the U.S., Ireland, France, Finland, South Korea, The Netherlands, Brazil, Uganda, Ethiopia, Poland, Mali, Marshall Islands, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, India, Liberia, Rwanda, China, and Chile. I am sure there are other countries as well that have had investigations due to fraud.

My main focus is on adult adoptees who have brought lawsuits, called for investigations, and/or who have annulled their adoptions due to fraud. Do you have statistics or any other information you are able to share? If you have some thoughts on this, please feel free to comment below, or to go to the Contact page here on my blog and send me an email.

One solid source of information is here: “Fraud and Corruption In International Adoptions.”

The government of Ireland–the home of Magdalene Laundries and the discoveries of children buried in graves at the orphanages–recently announced financial payments to some survivors of “mother-and-baby homes.” Controversies remain for many reasons, including around how long children had stayed at the “homes” to be eligible for payments. Controversies also surround the apologies by the Irish government and the Roman Catholic Church. Some 2000 Irish children were adopted to the U.S. between the 1940’s to the 1970’s.

Fraud, bribery, and corruption come in many forms in adoption. While there can be great love and joy, there is also darkness.

Adoptee Citizenship BEFORE Children in Family Security Act

To our U.S. Congress: Pass the Adoptee Citizenship bill before even considering any other international adoption legislation.

A new bill, the Children in Family Security Act (CFS Act), has been introduced into Congress to “ensure a diplomatic focus on keeping vulnerable children in the security of a family.” My first impression, and I am not a lawyer, is that the bill would require the U.S. State Department to promote, as a diplomatic mission, the adoption of children from other countries to the United States.

The bill does not, unless I am wrong, focus on preserving families, preventing children from entering institutional care, finding in-country relatives to foster or adopt the children, providing micro loans to help families keep their children, or increasing funding for equitable medical care around the globe.

The CSF Act supporters are listed as the National Council for Adoption, American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, Bethany Christian Services, Nourished Hearts, Center for Adoption Policy, and Gladney Center for Adoption.

During National Adoption Awareness Month, I posted every day about adoptee-centric, adoptee-led organizations, I must point out that none of the above orgs are adoptee-led or adoptee-centric. Neither are they international birth parent-led nor international birth parent-centric. They are adoptive parent-centric and adoption agency/lawyer-centric.

Here’s the thing: I am an adoptive parent, and I love my children more than I can say. Like the sponsors and supporters of the CFS Act, I also support keeping children out of institutions. Primarily I support family preservation to do that, which is I realize an enormous task. I get that. And I argue that we need to re-adjust our priorities and our funding to eliminating the reasons children end up in institutions: poverty, lack of education, lack of decent or any health care, job training, child care.

Speaking of priorities, however, here is my take on the Children in Family Security Act. Don’t even begin working on that until the Adoptee Citizenship Act is passed, and all international adoptees have citizenship. All of them. Some don’t even know they are not American citizens. Bring the deported adoptees back home; some of them are in their 40’s and 50’s. Some have died by suicide; some have been killed. Congress: Prevent more deportations; prevent more families from being torn apart.

Then we can all turn to the CFS Act and other legislation.

First, though, if you’re going to promote international adoption, grant citizenship to all international adoptees.

https://www.blunt.senate.gov/news/press-releases/blunt-klobuchar-introduce-children-in-family-security-act