FROM THE UAI NEWSROOM 17 July 2009
Korea Continues to Deny Overseas Adoptees Access
By Jennifer Kwon Dobbs and Jane Jeong Trenka
Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family opened a central adoption
information service center Wednesday to provide post-adoption services
to adoptees searching for their birth families. However, there's one
significant problem that the ministry has ignored: adoptee access.
center is meant to fulfill the requirement of a “central authority''
by the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. Click on the central
authority's new Web site (www.kcare.or.kr) featuring images of adoptees
for whom their birth families are searching and you'll find it is
completely in the Korean language. Can an overseas adoptee whose first
language is either English or French read or use this?
1953, South Korea has sent over 160,000 Korean children abroad to 14
Western countries. It is the oldest and largest adoption program in the
world, despite South Korea's economic miracle.
birth families is a primary reason for adoptees to return to South
Korea. From 1995-2005, the ministry reported that 78,000 adoptees came
to South Korea to search for their families. Yet only 2.7 percent were
reunited. What accounts for this low success rate?
Nielsen, former director of post-adoption services at Global Overseas
Adoptees' Link (G.O.A.L.) from 2001-2003, said, “In a given year I
received approximately 240 requests including e-mail inquiries. I have
reunited only 10 cases. The main problem was getting information from
The lack of adoptee access includes not only records and translation, but also active adoptee representation.
the central authority has prominent representation by adoption
agencies, an overseas adoptee who lives in Seoul, who was a potential
candidate for the board, was dropped without explanation.
replacement, Steven Morrison, is an adoptee living in the United States
who is head of Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea. He cannot
regularly attend meetings or events in Seoul important to the
information service center's decision-making process due to his
At an institutional level, the ministry
continues to view adoptees as a whole as children and discriminates
against them as “orphans'' and “foreigners'' who cannot represent
their own interests and who should not make decisions about themselves.
adoptees continue to struggle to make their voices heard. The
ministry's second hearing on the revision of South Korea's civil and
overseas adoption laws on July 1, sponsored by the Korean Women's
Development Institute (KWDI), marked the first time in 56 years of
international Korean adoption that a critical mass of overseas Korean
adoptees were able to directly communicate their own interests in a
governmental forum. The KWDI provided professional, simultaneous
This public hearing was originally
intended to be the last one before the ministry sends its suggested
revisions to the Adoption Law to the National Assembly.
after seeing the number of adoptees and supporters who turned out to
voice their opinions, Park Sook-ja, director of the ministry's family
policy bureau, announced that another public hearing might be necessary
to further discuss adoptee and single mother concerns.
ministry has not released information about a third public hearing.
Instead, it has rushed toward opening the service center both online
and onsite without consulting overseas adoptees and without any regard
for the comments they gave at the last public hearing.
The ministry intends for the center to bring South Korea into compliance with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
accordance with the convention, it should hold the records of the
adoptees and assist with birth family searches. It should also serve as
a watchdog over the agencies. However, the center is incorporated as a
private entity, not a governmental agency with sufficient oversight.
center's facilities and problems are the same as the old GAIPS (Global
Adoption Information and Post Services Center) Adoption Information
In fact, it is located in the old GAIPS office ― they
have yet to even change the sign on the door. GAIPS failed to establish
a sufficient working relationship with overseas adoptees because it was
not willing to provide language access.
Despite appearing to
make improvements, the South Korean government continues to deny the
adoption community authentic access and services. Fifty-six years and
counting of adoption history, overseas adoptees are still waiting.
Kwon Dobbs, professor of English at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, is
the author of "Paper Pavilion." Jane Jeong Trenka is the author of "The Language of Blood," " Fugitive Visions," and co-editor of "Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption." They are members
of Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea
(TRACK), a group advocating for transparency in adoption practices both
past and present to improve the lives of Korean families and adoptees.