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.

The Complexity of Visiting Korea, By a Korean Adoptee: NAAM

This is day 28 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees..

I am fascinated by other languages, and especially by the difficult-to-translate meanings of some words. For example, I love the word “fernweh,” German for “farsickness,” or a longing for place you’ve never been to and can never go to. Another favorite is “hiraeth,” a Welsh word that roughly translates to a longing for a place that was never yours, a place to which you can’t return. Both have some relevance to adoption.

Leslie Maes, a Korean adoptee raised in Belgium, has written an article published in The Korea Times about “han” and “jeong” for adoptees. Maes notes that “han” is a Korean word “that could be described as an ‘internalized feeling of deep sorrow, grief, regret and anger.'”  “Jeong,” he writes, “can be described as ‘a feeling of loyalty and of strong emotional connection to people and places.’ ” 

Maes would like to see the Korean adoptee community take on the embodiment of ‘jeong.’ “This emotion is the true gift we get from adoption, and one of the things I am really grateful for.

When looking at the difficult lives some adoptees have had, and how poor adoptee support systems are, it is comforting and reassuring to see how supportive and organized Korean adoptees are, globally. Sure there’s a lot of politics going on within groups and between community leaders, as in any kind of community.

But with a difficult start in life, often no support from Korea, nor from the receiving countries, adoptees are doing a great job in creating and connecting. Most adoptees are doing this work for free and in their free time.”

I’ve known many international and transracial adoptees who do not feel “Korean enough,” or Chinese enough,” or “Black enough,” or “Colombian enough.” One of the frequent losses in international adoption is the loss of one’s original language. Some adoptees of course learn (or re-learn) their original languages; perhaps others incorporate the bits of language that bring comfort to them. Maybe it’s a way of filling in missing pieces.

This article, printed in The Korea Times, is, according to an Editor’s Note, “the 24th in a series about Koreans adopted abroad. Apparently, many Koreans never expected that the children it had sent away via adoption would return as adults with questions demanding to be answered. However, thousands of adoptees visit Korea each year. Once they rediscover this country, it becomes a turning point in their lives. We should embrace the dialogue with adoptees to discover the path to recovering our collective humanity. ― ED.

Intercountry adoption in many ways began with Korean adoptees after the Korean War, and they are the largest group of intercountry adoptees to the U.S., if not globally. I am not aware of any other “sending” country that has offered to promote the viewpoint of adoptees this way. Wouldn’t it be great if other countries followed this example, and amplified, or at least encouraged, the voices of adult adoptees?

I Am Adoptee: NAAM

This is day 16 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

“A community built around mental health and wellness, by adoptees, for adoptees”: that is the focus of the nonprofit IAMAdoptee. Co-founder Joy Lieberthal Rho, LCSW, was adopted from South Korea when she almost six years old. She has worked in adoption for many years, including in private practice with intercountry adoptees and their families. That work was the basis for founding IAMAdoptee, which curates a wealth of mental health resources, directed primarily to internationally adopted people.

The wellness resources include suggestions for how to deal with Covid-19 isolation, lists of adoptee-led groups around the world, and articles and blog posts about a range of adoptee-related subjects. There is a checklist and overview for adoptees considering searching for birth family, with information about South Korea, China, Colombia, Guatemala, India, and Paraguay. In “Community,” you can find information about culture camps and related organizations, about citizenship, about adoptee podcasts, and about adoptee-focused conferences.

Currently, IAMAdoptee is partnering with SideXSide, “a large scale documentary and oral history project, telling the story of 65+ years of inter-country adoption out of South Korea and 100 individuals, born in Korea, 1944–1995.” (I wrote about SideXSide here.) IAMAdoptee is hosting a series of Reflections on the Adoptee Journey, about the topics in SideXSide’s videos, such as Memory, Birth Family Reunion, and Searching for Answers. Each topic features a video from the SideXSide project, and then a reflection/conversation with an “esteemed lineup of intercountry adoptee clinical therapists,” facilitated by Joy Lieberthal Rho.

IAMAdoptee is actively adding mental health and wellness resources to their site. The Facebook page has additional information and resources. One recent post, for example, was about adult adoptees from Greece seeking to reinstate their citizenship.

The vision of IAMAdoptee is “an act of service to the adoptee community, a place for an intercountry adopted person to connect with others.” An excellent way to honor adoptees during National Adoption Awareness Month (November) is to follow their Facebook pages and websites, and to donate to ensure they can keep their good work going.

SideXSide, Side By Side: NAAM

This is day 10 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Side By Side” or “SideXSide” is an adoptee-led, adoptee-focused online video installation. That is, Side By Side is a collection of 100 stories of Korean adoptees, raised in seven countries, speaking six languages, sharing both similar and disparate experiences.

The filmmakers are Glenn Morey (he is a Korean adoptee), and Julie Morey. From the website: “We did not seek to insert ourselves, as filmmakers, into their truth. In this, we were absolutely determined. That is why every participant was filmed in exactly the same way, on the same neutral background, with the same lighting and composition. We asked every participant to respond to the same four questions, in order to organize their narrative chronologically: (1) Tell us about your origin; (2) tell us about your adoption or aging-out; (3) tell us about how you grew up; and (4) tell us about the years when you became an adult, up until now.”

The filmmakers go on: “These stories, collectively, do not represent a political agenda of any kind. The purpose of this project is only to open an intensely experiential window of oral history, of social and academic understanding, and of empathy through art. We, as the filmmakers, ask you to recognize each story as that teller’s truth in life. We do not present them here to be judged.”

The Side By Side videos are “neither an endorsement nor an indictment of inter-country adoption.” They seek only to “promote a greater understanding of adoption out of South Korea, and perhaps more broadly, inter-country adoption at large—widely practiced, not only in the wake of wars and geopolitical crises that separate millions of children from their biological families, but also in the course of family disruption and poverty.”

The 100 videos can be sorted by birth year, country, subject matter, and more. In addition to the 100 videos, there is also a prize-winning Side By Side short documentary available on the website that is well worth watching. All of the videos and the documentary are poignant, candid, genuine, wise. Some may also have potentially disturbing or triggering content.

The wonderful site I Am Adoptee (“created by adoptees, for adoptees”) is offering a “pairing” of the Side By Side videos with interviews by adult adoptees commenting on the video-stories.

Here is a recent post from the IAMAdoptee Facebook page: “IAMAdoptee presents the online premiere of ’11 Short Stories’ paired with a conversation with IAMAdoptee co-founder, Joy Lieberthal Rho, and clinical therapist, Katie Naftzger, LICSW, adopted from South Korea. Katie shares all the ways adoptees have internalized the telling of their adoption story by others and begin to give themselves permission to take their time in creating their own story. You can view the eighth Side By Side Project video, ’11 Short Stories’ and listen to Joy and Katie’s reflections video on our website here.”

Side By Side is an incredibly powerful project.