South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has launched an official inquiry into the international adoption of more than 200,000 Korean children to the US and Europe.
The announcement comes as evidence mounts that many of the babies’ true identities have been withheld, obscured or falsified.
As the Telegraph revealed earlier this week, between the mid-1950s and late 1980s, tens of thousands of South Korean children were sent overseas by international adoption agencies – many on false pretences.
On Thursday, South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission announced it will scrutinise the cases of 34 adoptees who were sent to Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the US, in the largest inquiry into foreign adoptions to date.
The practices of all four adoption agencies involved will be examined.
Peter Møller – a Danish lawyer who was adopted from South Korea in the 1970s and now heads the Danish Korean Rights Group, which has led calls for an investigation – said the announcement is a major moment for those affected.
“Yesterday evening the commission told us an investigation into adoption has been decided to begin,” he told the Telegraph. “Adoptees around the world have been cheering and crying of joy yesterday because of the historical decision by the commission.”
The 34 cases that will be initially investigated date from the 1960s to the early 1990s, and were among 51 adoptees who first submitted their applications to the commission in August.
That group has now swelled to over 300 people, and adoptees from Sweden and Australia are also expected to fill applications before the deadline closes on Friday.
The commission’s conclusions could be used by those affected to sue the agencies involved – including Holt Children's Services and the Korea Social Service – or the government for damages, and the investigation is unlikely to conclude before 2024.
The grievances related to adoption practices from the mid-1950s to the late 1980s, when military rule ended and tougher domestic and international regulation was brought in.
In many cases children were from poor families who ended up in orphanages, or from unwed mothers who were pressured into giving up their babies while in hospitals. Their documents were often changed to suggest the babies were orphans found on the street, and in some cases parents did not consent to the adoption and were not told what happened to them.
This includes the case of Kyung Sook Jung, who was adopted to Norway in 1970. Her mother died shortly after giving birth, but she was a sick baby and her father put her in temporary care as he could not afford the healthcare bills. By the time she found out what happened, having traced her biological family, her father had died.
“[He] never knew I was adopted abroad,” she told the Telegraph. “I believe he thought I was inside of Korea the whole time. He went searching for me at the children’s homes close to his area…. My older sister told me that on his deathbed he remembered me and said to her ‘you must find your little sister, you must find Kyung Sook and I want you sisters to be together’.”
Joakim Bern, who was adopted to Denmark, also believed he had been abandoned on the streets of Busan, on the southern coast of Korea. His life turned “upside down” when he later learned he had been born in Seoul to a single mother.
Although his case is not one of the first 34 to be examined, he said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s decision is a huge moment.
“It’s amazing,” he told the Telegraph. “We have reached a historical milestone for all adoptees in the world. We are all touched and very happy… we all know that our cases will be investigated and that’s fantastic.”
Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security