SEOUL, South Korea — Louise Kwang thought for 40 years that she was an orphan who was found on the streets of the South Korean port city of Busan before she was adopted by Danish parents in 1976.
She felt her entire sense of identity collapse in 2016 when her South Korean agency soberly admitted that her origin story was a fiction designed to ensure her adoptability.
“(The English file) states that you were transferred to the KSS for intercountry adoption from the Namkwang Children’s Home in Pusan (Busan). In fact, it was only made up for the adoption process,” wrote Kyeong Suk Lee, a social worker with Korea Social Services, in a letter to Kwang after requesting her original Korean-language file.
It turns out the agency knew about Kwang’s biological parents, including her father, whom she later met. There is no indication that Kwang was ever in Busan, which is several hours’ drive from the country’s capital, Seoul, where her father had lived in 1976.
“I wasn’t an orphan. I’ve never been to Busan or the Busan Orphanage,” Kwang said at a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday. “It was all a lie. A fabricated lie for an adoption process. I was declared non-existent in Korea so I can get out of Korea as soon as possible.”
Kwang is among nearly 300 South Korean adoptees in Europe and the United States who have so far filed requests asking the South Korean government to investigate the circumstances of their adoptions, which they suspect are based on forged documents that match theirs status or identity washed.
Her efforts underscore a deepening rift between the world’s largest diaspora of adoptees and their country of birth, decades after dozens of Korean children were carelessly removed from their families during an overseas adoption boom that peaked in the 1980s.
The Denmark-based group representing adoptees also on Tuesday delivered a letter to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office urging him to stop authorities from destroying records or retaliating against adoptees who violate their Seek roots as authorities face increasing scrutiny of their past practices.
The 283 applications filed so far with the Seoul Truth and Reconciliation Commission describe numerous complaints about lost or distorted biological origins.
Some adoptees say they found the agencies changed their identities to replace other children who died, were too ill to travel, or were taken back by their Korean families before they could be sent to Western adopters. They say such finds compound their sense of loss and sometimes lead to false reunions with relatives who turn out to be strangers.
Peter Møller, a lawyer and co-founder of the Danish Korean Rights Group, said he also plans to sue two Seoul-based agencies – Holt Children’s Services and KSS – for their refusal to make their records fully accessible to adoptees.
While authorities often cite privacy issues surrounding birth parents to justify limited access, Møller accuses them of making excuses to dodge questions about their practices as adoptees increasingly express frustration with the limited details in their adoption papers, which often turn out to be inaccurate or forged.
Møller’s group initially submitted applications from 51 Danish adoptees last month, asking the commission to investigate their adoptions, which were processed by Holt and KSS.
The move drew widespread attention from Korean adoptees from around the world, prompting the group to expand their campaign to include Holt and KSS adoptees outside of Denmark. The 232 additional applications filed Tuesday included 165 cases from Denmark, 36 cases from the United States and 31 cases from Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.
The commission set up in December 2020 to investigate human rights atrocities under military governments that ruled South Korea from the 1960s to 1980s must decide in three or four months whether to open an investigation into the applications made by the adoptees. If so, it could trigger the widest-ranging probe into foreign adoptions in the country, which has never fully reconciled the child-export craze orchestrated by its former military leaders.
With the commission’s application deadline in December, Møller said his group will try to persuade the commission to keep the door open to more adoptee applications if it decides to investigate the cases.
“There are many more adoptees who have written to us, called us, contacted us. They are afraid to submit to this case because they fear that the adoption agencies will … burn the original documents and take revenge,” Møller said. He said such concerns are greater with adoptees who discover the agencies have changed their identities.
Holt did not respond to requests for comment. Choon Hee Kim, an adoption worker who has worked at KSS since the 1970s, said the agency is willing to discuss adoption-related issues with adoptees individually, but not with the media.
When asked about KSS letters admitting the falsification of biological origins, Kim said, “The adoptees say they received letters like this because they did it, and it’s not like they made it up .”
About 200,000 South Koreans have been adopted abroad over the past six decades, mostly by white parents in the United States and Europe, and mostly in the 1970s and 1980s.
Military leaders saw adoption as a way to reduce the number of mouths to feed, solve the “problem” of unmarried mothers, and deepen ties with the democratic West.
Special laws aimed at encouraging foreign adoption effectively allowed licensed private agencies to circumvent the proper practice of child surrender, as they exported large numbers of children to the West year after year.
Most South Korean adoptees sent abroad were registered by authorities as legal orphans found on the streets, although they often had relatives who could be easily identified or located. This practice often makes it difficult or impossible to trace their roots.
As recently as 2013, the South Korean government required foreign adoptions to go through family courts, ending policies that allowed authorities to dictate child abandonment, custody transfers and emigration for decades.
https://nypost.com/2022/09/13/nearly-300-demand-south-korea-probe-international-adoptions/ Nearly 300 are asking South Korea to review intercountry adoptions