South Korean Group Expands Investigation into Foreign Adoptions

    13 June 2023

    South Korea's Truth and Reconciliation Commission said last week it will investigate the cases of 237 more South Korean adoptees. The adoptees suspect their family history records were changed to make their adoptions possible in Europe and the United States.

    The new cases in the investigation involve foreign adoptees in 11 nations. All involve adoptions that took place between 1960 and 1990.

    More than 370 adoptees from Europe, North America, and Australia registered applications last year demanding that their cases be investigated.

    FILE - Peter M<I>&#</I>248;ller of the Danish Korean Rights Group submits documents at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Seoul on Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
    FILE - Peter M&#248;ller of the Danish Korean Rights Group submits documents at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Seoul on Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

    The commission said last December it would investigate the first 34 cases. It noted that the records of many adoptees sent to the West had clearly been changed. It said the records falsely described the adoptees as being orphans, or not having living parents. It also said the records falsified their identities.

    The commission said most of the applicants claim their adoptions were based on falsified records meant to make their adoptions possible.

    Some applicants asked the commission to look into abuses they say they experienced at South Korean orphanages or under the care of their foreign adoptive parents.

    Of the 271 cases accepted by the commission so far, 141 are those of Danish adoptees. They include members of the Danish Korean Rights Group. Other cases include 28 U.S. adoptees and 21 Swedish adoptees, officials said.

    The commission is examining the applications in the order they were registered. Officials have said it is likely to investigate the remaining 101 cases, too.

    History of adoptions

    About 200,000 South Koreans were adopted by parents in Western countries over the past 60 years. They are believed to be the world's largest group of foreign adoptees.

    Most were placed with white parents in the United States and Europe during the 1970s and 1980s. During that time, South Korea was ruled by back-to-back military dictatorships. The military government focused on policies meant to increase economic growth. The government saw adoption as a way to reduce the number of people to feed, remove the "social problem" of unmarried mothers, and deepen ties with the democratic West.

    The military government created special laws aimed at increasing foreign adoptions. Those laws let adoption agencies get around widely accepted child relinquishment practices. To relinquish in this case means to give up possession or control of something.

    Most adoptees were registered by agencies as orphans found abandoned on the streets, even if they had family members who could have been easily identified. That practice has made it hard for South Korean adoptees to know their roots, or family history.

    It was not until 2013 that South Korea's government required foreign adoptions to go through family courts. The change ended a long policy that permitted agencies to control child relinquishments and international adoptions.

    I'm Ashley Thompson.

    Kim Tong-Hyung reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    adopt v. to take a child of other parents legally as your own child

    apply – v. to ask formally for something (such as a job, admission to a school, or a loan) usually in writing

    focus – v. to cause (something, such as attention) to be directed at something specific

    abandon v. to leave and never return to (someone who needs protection or help)