Hundreds of Korean Adoptees Petition for an Investigation Into Their Adoptions

The Danish Korean Rights Group (DKRG), an adoptee-centered organization based in Denmark, has petitioned the government of South Korea to investigate adoptions for fraud, and to ensure that agencies do not destroy adoptees’ documents.

Korean adoptee Peter Møller of the DKRG spoke recently in Seoul. This is an excerpt.

“Today I have handed in 232 new application to the (Truth and Reconciliation) Commission. 163 from Denmark and 69 from countries other than Denmark, from adoptees placed around the world, including the USA, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium…

We add to this declarations of support from adoptees placed by adoption agencies other than Holt and KSS, and adoptive parents…

I have received many inquiries from all over the world, and most adoptees are very worried…adoptees are afraid that the adoption agencies will destroy and dispose of our original documents to prevent the truth about adoption from South Korea from being known.

DKRG has had reasonable grounds to suspect that falsification of adoptees’ documents has occurred to enable overseas adoption…An example:

The adoptee Ms. Stephens from the US writes to me: ‘I was told by the social worker, Mrs. Kim (KSS), that most likely the name provided as my mother’s was a false name, probably changed by a KSS employee. In making me an “orphan,” KSS erased my mother’s identity from my records, making it impossible for me to find her. It is my belief that my mother wants me to find her as she wrote letters to my father and sent him photos of me. My father died before I could meet him.’

I am standing here with a letter from one of the adoption agencies, and this letter proves that this is precisely what happened. Let me read it out loud to you. This is a letter to an adopted person:

‘First of all, I would like to apologize for the mistake in your adoption file written in English. It says you were transferred from Namkwang Children’s Home in Pusan to KSS for international adoption. In fact, it was made up just for adoption procedure, and now I would like to share your adoption background as written in the original paper,’ quote Ms. Lee, KSS…

DKRG has decided to write a letter to the President of Korea, in which we urgently request the Korean government and authorities to protect the adoptees’ original documents and protect the adoptees from reprisals.”

Møller’s full statement is here.

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.

Adapted Podcast: NAAM

This is day 8 of National Adoption Awareness Month, so this is my daily post to amplify the voices of adoptees.

Adoptions from the Republic of Korea to the U.S. began in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, before, during, and after the Korean War. Korean babies and children (like almost all international adoptees) were also sent to other countries, mostly in western Europe. They are the oldest and largest group of international adoptees. The State Department says that some 200,000 Korean children were adopted by U.S. citizens between 1999 and 2020. Tobias Hubinette, a scholar and Korean adoptee raised in Sweden, reports that some 95,000 Korean children were adopted to the U.S. between 1946-1999. Thus approximately 300,000 Korean adoptees have grown up in the U.S., and some thousands have grown up in other countries, outside of the land of their birth.

Because of that long history and volume, Korean adoptees are often looked to for their experiences, perspectives, and programs. The podcast Adapted is an adoptee-led, adoptee-centric space for Korean adoptees to share their stories. Many have returned to Korea. A few have been deported back there. Many have searched for their birth family; some have found them. In these well-done and insightful interviews, they speak about racism, identity, trauma, and belonging.

As you can see from the photo, Adapted is now in its 5th season, no easy accomplishment for a podcast. Kaomi Goetz, a television and radio journalist, started the podcast five years ago when she was a Fulbright scholar. She is also a Korean adoptee, and she was in Korea on a journalism grant. The podcast is now funded via Patreon. I have mentioned in previous posts the value of following and donating to adoptee-centric, adoptee led spaces. Supporting adoptee-led programs via Patreon is also an excellent opportunity to amplify and elevate adoptee voices.

I have the honor of knowing a few of the people who have been interviewed for the podcast. Listening to their stories helped me learn more about them. I “know of” a number of others who have been featured. The power of story cannot be overestimated, and stories help create community, among other assets. Listen to Adapted, and see what happens.

Korean Adoptee Wins Right in Korean Court to Meet Her Korean Father, And Be Registered on Family Registry

This is a breakthrough ruling for Korean adoptees. A Korean court June 12 ruled in favor of adoptee Kang Mee-sook, adoptive name Kara Bos, who was raised in the U.S. She now has the legal right to meet her Korean father, and be listed on his family registry. She had originally searched for her mother to no avail, and then found through DNA that she had a 99.99 biological connection to a Korean man named Kang. He and his family, however, refused to meet with her, and so she took action through the Korean courts. 

This ruling means that she can be registered on her father’s Korean family registry as “a person acknowledged,” which is a significant part of the Korean family law system. She was born out of wedlock, and still hopes to meet her mother. She will meet her father on Monday in Korea.

As an adoptive parent, I have long held that adoptees should have the right to their own identity as a civil and human right. This is an enormous groundbreaking ruling for Korean adoptees, who make up the largest segment of international adoptees, and could set a precedent of sorts for other international adoptees seeking access to their identity and information. I wish Kang Mee-sook/Kara Bos all the best.

I had previously written about the case here.

You can read an English version of the story from a Korean newspaper here.

Here is a link to a New York Times story about the case.

This is a landmark case for international adoption adoptee rights and could perhaps have ramifications for other adoptees searching for their truths.

Korean Adoptee Files Paternity Suit Against (For?) Her Korean Father

Kara Bos was adopted from Korea to the US when she was 2 years old. Now, 36 years later, she has filed a paternity suit in Korea to be legally recognized by her Korean father. 

As many adoptees have done, Kara used DNA testing to locate Korean family members. Following up on results which connected her to a cousin and nephew, Kara traveled to Seoul and took DNA tests there. Those results identified an 85 year old Gangnam man with 99.9% probability of being her father. Kara apparently has two half-sisters in Korea, and they have have refused to connect directly with the man she believes to be her Korean father. 

On May 29, 2020, a court hearing in Seoul is scheduled to take place in order to enter Kara in the father’s family registry. The Korean family registry is an important and historical part of Korean culture, as it officially identifies family members and thus can affect citizenship, inheritance, and more.

Among the reasons Kara wants to meet her Korean father is to learn why she was abandoned, and to have information about her mother. “He is my only link to finding out who my mother is, as my adoption documents list only ‘abandoned.'”

Kara says that adoptees “need to know who our parents are, where we come from, and why we were abandoned, and the Korean government doesn’t do anything to help us with that. We want truth. We want answers to our past.” 

“I want my story told so that Korea understand the excruciating pain and rejection an adoptee has to go through even as an adult on their return to find out their birth story.”

Read the Manila Bulletin article here: “Korean-American adoptee files landmark paternity suit against her biological father in South Korea.”

The Korean adoptee community has been especially active in promoting DNA testing. Here is one source for information and tests.

First Hearing Held on Adoptee Adam Crapser’s Lawsuit Against Holt, Korean Government

This is a very significant event: the first hearing in a court case brought by an international adoptee against an adoption agency and the country in which he was born. Adam Crapser, adopted from South Korea and deported back as an adult, has filed a suit against Holt Children’s Services and against the Korean government, arguing that both committed “gross negligence.”

The Korea Herald today posted “First Hearing in Holt Lawsuit by Korean adoptee deported from US highlights fight for transparency, adoptee rights.”

I’m disappointed to read that, at the hearing, Holt’s lawyer said that “the statute of limitations on Crapser’s adoption had passed, regardless of Holt’s responsibility.” 

That could prove to be accurate legally. Morally and ethically, though, I hope that Holt and all adoption agencies don’t just shrug their shoulders about responsibilities towards the children brought to the U.S. or elsewhere. 

Adam Crapser was abused horribly, sexually, physically, and emotionally, growing up in the family Holt placed him with. Surely there is some ethical obligation by adoption agencies, which received fees for salaries, travel, overhead, documents, and more, toward the ongoing outcomes of the children they placed for adoption. The children grow up. It is unjust and immoral for agencies not to acknowledge the role they had for the children they accepted into their care and whose adoptive parents they vetted. Agencies cannot accept the gratitude and donations of adoptive parents without also serving the needs of the adoptees whose lives were not better as a result of adoption, but were filled with abuse and neglect.

One aspect of how Adam was failed, and this pertains to thousands of other international adoptees, is that none of his various adoptive/foster parents got citizenship for him. It is an outrage that our U.S. Congress has still not passed legislation for all international adoptees, though there has been significant progress due to the efforts of Adoptees For Justice, Adoptee Rights Campaign, and others. Please take a look at their websites, gather information, and join the effort to pass legislation granting citizenship to all international adoptees.

Photo of Korean adoptees with signs written in Korean to support Adam Crapser's lawsuit against Holt and Korea.
Photo ©: Korea Herald

We in the adoption community are at an eye-opening time: finally, more adoptees’ voices are being heard and listened to (though we still need to do much better), and the traditional narrative of adoption as win-win-win is being both questioned and exposed as far more nuanced and complex than its Hallmark card reputation. We need to hear from so many more voices.

This lawsuit, regardless of its outcome, is a bellwether for the work that needs to be done in Adoption Land. People around the globe, including adult adoptees, the U.S. State Department, embassies, adoption agencies, and governments in sending and receiving countries (the U.S. both sends children outside the U.S. for international adoption and receives them for the same) are watching this case carefully.

Milton Washington: Hardwired, Black, Korean, Adopted, Storyteller

I’ve known Milton several years now. We visit with him when we are in New York City, most recently last summer. I don’t remember now how we met: a white, transracial adoptive mom from the east coast who loves to read and to write, and a black/Korean former football player who hates to read and is writing a book about his early childhood in Korea and his adoption by a black military family in the U.S. I am among his biggest fans, learning anew every time I hear about his life as a little black boy ostracized and beaten up in Korea, the son of a still unknown American soldier and a prostitute who nurtured and loved and disciplined him fiercely. When he was eight years old, he and his mom took a taxi ride to St. Vincent’s orphanage about an hour outside of Seoul; that was the last time he saw her. I learn when he talks about not fitting in, about being taunted for who he is, and about how he is “in between worlds” constantly as a Korean, a black man, and an adopted person, as well as within each of those categories.

So when I listened to this recent Adapted podcast, I again learned a lot about Milton. When I’ve been around him, he doesn’t curse very much, but he does in this interview—just letting you know. He’s 48, though maybe he’s 50. As an adoptee, he’s done many DNA tests. He’s searched for his Korean mother, and feels she may now be in California. He is writing his memoir, SlickyBoy, in no small part with the hope that he will find his mother and his bio siblings, once the book is published.

http://adaptedpodcast.com

I’ve read a draft chapter from Slickyboy: A Memoir, and it has stayed with me in a powerful way. You can read an excerpt here. This excerpt is from 2010, so has no doubt changed. “Slicky boy,” by the way, is a phase used by American GI’s for the Koreans who would steal from the soldiers. The time needed to birth this book also perhaps reveals the challenge of writing memoirs that are painful, revealing, inspiring, and hopeful, and that cut searingly close to the heart and to the bone. I am reminded also, though only as an adoptive parent, that some adoptees search over a lifetime for their true stories, identities, and place in this world.

You can listen to Milton’s podcast interview here. Adapted is “a podcast that explores the experiences of Korean adoptees, from post-reunion stories to living in Korea as adults.” There are some amazing interviews there, and I highly recommend listening.

I also recommend keeping an eye out for Milton’s book, following him on Instagram (@slickyboymemoir) and Facebook , and taking a look at his stunning photographic skills. Milton is a strong, raw storyteller. He loves his families deeply, even as complicated and painful as his life has sometimes been. He is vulnerable; he is resilient. I can’t wait to read his book, and I hope it brings a sense of peace and accomplishment for him when it is published. He hopes that the book will “blow up,” that it will bring his Korean sisters around to him. He hopes especially that it will reach his mother, so that “she can see her son proud.” I hope so too.