For 40 years, Louise Kwang believed her biological parents were dead. She had been adopted from South Korea in 1976 by a couple from Denmark.
Kwang was told she had been found alone on the streets of the South Korean city of Busan as a baby. That is what she had always been told about her early life.
But that understanding of her identity collapsed in 2016. The South Korean agency that processed her adoption admitted it had lied about Kwang. It said the story she was told was created to increase her chances of getting adopted.
Kwang received a letter from a social worker at the Korea Social Service (KSS). The social worker provided the true story.
The agency, in fact, knew about Kwang’s biological parents. There is no evidence that Kwang was ever in Busan, a city several hours by car from the country’s capital, Seoul. That is where her father was living in 1976, the year of Kwang’s adoption.
“I was not an orphan. I have never been to Busan nor at the orphanage in Busan,” Kwang said recently at a news conference in Seoul. “This was all a lie. A lie made up for adoption procedure. I have been made non-existent in Korea, to get me out of Korea as fast as possible.”
Adoptees suspect documents made up
About 300 South Korean adoptees in Europe and the United States are calling for South Korea’s government to investigate their adoption. The adoptees suspect their adoption procedures were based on falsified documents.
Their effort marks a deepening divide between the world’s largest population of adoptees and their birth nation. The effort also comes years after the Korean children were carelessly removed from their families, a practice that was at its highest in the 1980s.
The Denmark-based group representing the adoptees presented a letter this week to the office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. In the letter, the group urged him to prevent agencies from destroying records or punishing adoptees seeking information about their past.
Seoul’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has received 283 applications from adoptees so far. The applications describe numerous complaints about lost or false biological stories.
Some adoptees say they discovered the adoption agencies changed their identities to replace other children who died, were too sick to travel, or were retaken by their Korean family before they could be sent to Western adopters. Adoptees note that such findings deepen their sense of loss.
Peter Møller is a lawyer and co-founder of the Danish Korean Rights Group. He said he also plans to take legal action against two Seoul-based agencies – Holt Children’s Services and KSS – over their unwillingness to fully open their records to adoptees.
The agencies often note privacy issues related to birth parents to explain the restricted access to records. But Møller accuses them of inventing excuses to avoid questions about their methods.
Last month, his group first filed applications from 51 Danish adoptees calling for the commission to investigate their adoptions.
The move received intense attention from Korean adoptees around the world, leading the group to expand its campaign to adoptees outside of Denmark. The 232 additional applications received so far included 165 cases from Denmark, 36 cases from the United States, and 31 cases combined from Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Germany.
The commission must decide in three or four months whether to open an investigation into the applications filed by adoptees. If it does, that could possibly lead to the most far-reaching investigation into foreign adoptions in the country.
Holt did not immediately answer calls for comment. Choon Hee Kim, an adoption worker who has been with the KSS since the 1970s, said the agency is willing to discuss issues surrounding its adoptions with adoptees individually but not with the media.
Adoption said to be used to deepen ties with West
About 200,000 South Koreans were adopted overseas during in past 60 years, mainly to white parents in the United States and Europe and mostly during the 1970s and 1980s.
South Korea’s then-military leaders saw adoptions as a way to reduce the number of people to feed. They also saw adoption as a way to solve the “problem” of unmarried mothers and to deepen ties with the democratic West.
Most of the South Korean adoptees sent overseas were registered by agencies as legal orphans found abandoned on the streets. Many of the adoptees, however, often had family members who could be easily identified or found.
Special laws aimed at promoting foreign adoptions permitted private agencies to avoid usual child relinquishment steps. To relinquish means to give possession of something to another person or group. These laws let the agencies more easily export huge numbers of children to the West year after year.
It was not until 2013 that South Korea’s government required foreign adoptions to go through family courts. That ended the long-standing policy that permitted adoption agencies to dictate when children are considered released from their families.
I’m Ashley Thompson.
And I’m Caty Weaver.
The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
couple - n. two people who are married or who have a romantic or sexual relationship
process - v. to deal with (something, such as an official document or request) by using a particular method or system
application - n. a formal and usually written request for something (such as a job, admission to a school, a loan, etc.)
orphan - n. a child whose parents are dead
access - n. a way of being able to use, enter, or get near (something)
procedure - n. a series of actions that are done in a certain way or order : an established or accepted way of doing something
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