South Korea Agrees to Investigate International Adoptions: This is Big.

In an unprecedented move, one that other governments will hopefully look into, South Korea has agreed to investigate fraud and corruption in international adoptions from South Korea. According to NPR, South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has said “it decided to investigate 34 cases,… which could possibly develop into the country’s most far-reaching inquiry into foreign adoptions yet.”

Further, “Nearly 400 South Koreans adopted as children by families in the West have requested South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigate their adoptions…as Seoul faces growing pressure to reckon with a child export frenzy driven by dictatorships that ruled the country until the 1980s.”

The Danish Korean Rights Group has been the leader in this effort, via Korean adoptee and attorney Peter Møller. The DKRG has filed hundreds of applications requesting an investigation, from adoptees raised in Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and the US. The adoptees, per The Guardian, “say they were wrongfully removed from their families through falsified documents and corrupt practices.”

The investigation, according to Spectrum News, is rooted in “a broad range of grievances emphasizing how scores of children were carelessly or unnecessarily removed from their families amid loose government monitoring and a lack of due diligence. 

Perhaps more crucially, the country’s special laws aimed at promoting adoptions practically allowed profit-driven agencies to manipulate records and bypass proper child relinquishment. 

Most of the South Korean adoptees sent abroad were registered by agencies as legal orphans found abandoned on the streets, although they frequently had relatives who could be easily identified and found. This made the children more easily adoptable as agencies raced to send more kids to the West at faster speeds. 

‘None of us are orphans,’ said Peter Møller, attorney and co-head of the Danish Korean Rights Group, as he described the group’s members who filed the application. 

“(In) a lot of papers, the Korean state at the time have stamped papers that say people were found on the streets. If you do a little bit of math, that would mean that from the 1970s and 1980s Seoul would be flooded with baskets with children lying around in the streets. … Basements will be filled with lost child reports at police stations.

Some of the adoptees say they discovered that the agencies had switched their identities to replace other children who died or got too sick to travel to Danish parents, which made it highly difficult or often impossible to trace their roots. 

The adoptees called for the commission to broadly investigate the alleged wrongdoings surrounding their adoptions, including how agencies potentially falsified records, manipulated children’s backgrounds and origins, and proceeded with adoptions without the proper consent of birth parents. They want the commission to establish whether the government should be held accountable for failing to monitor the agencies and confirm whether the uptick in adoptions was fueled by increasingly larger payments and donations from adoptive parents, which apparently motivated agencies to create their own supply. 

The adoptees also called for the commission to push Holt Children’s Services and the Korea Social Service — the two agencies that sent kids to Denmark — into providing full access to the entirety of their adoption documents and background information. They also say all those records should be transferred to government authorities handling post-adoption services to prevent the information from being destroyed or manipulated.”

It is extraordinary and highly significant that South Korea has agreed to this investigation of fraud and duplicity. Will other sending countries follow this important example and do the same?