A South Korean organization that facilitated international “adoptions” in the 1980s has been found to have kidnapped and abused children before shipping them overseas, often without the knowledge of their biological parents, as reported this week by the Associated Press.
Official documents show that, between 1979 and 1986, 19 children were adopted out of the South Korean facility Brothers Home and sent abroad to new adoptive parents. Indirect evidence from other documents show at least 51 more adoptions as a part of an illegal orphan pipeline feeding private adoption agencies in North America, Australia and Europe.
The AP previously uncovered a system of government cover-up and a high level of abuse of children and the disabled at Brothers Home, where thousands of children and adults deemed “vagrants” were kept enslaved, raped and even beaten to death. The discovery of the adoption “pipeline” raises questions of exactly how many children were adopted into different homes with no knowledge or consent from their birth parents.
One woman adopted at age 4 in 1982 says police officers found her on the street before taking her to Brothers. Weeks later, she was sent to another orphanage and then a new home in North America. The AP’s report had her questioning whether her whole adoption story was a sham.
“One of my main questions is wondering if I was supposed to be [at Brothers], or if my parents, my biological parents, are still out there looking for me,” said J. Hwang, who didn’t know she had been at Brothers. “Why me?”
Adoptive parents were unaware of the conditions at Brothers and their newly adopted children’s stories. Biological parents may not have known their children were at Brothers, let alone that they had been adopted to an entirely different country.
A loss of records means an accurate number of adoptions completed through Brothers is impossible to know, but sources indicate that there was “no doubt” that Brothers was selling babies to North American, Australian and European adoption agencies.
What This Story Means for International Adoption
International adoption policies have been on shaky ground for a few decades, in part due to increasing restrictions on adoptions across national borders to American parents. Where international adoption used to be a common way for Americans to bring children into their families, recent reports show intercountry adoptions to the U.S. have dropped more than 84 percent from 2004.
And it’s stories like these that are the reason.
For many decades, American would-be parents were able to easily adopt from countries throughout the world. However, a lack of regulation and credible information from agencies led to exploitation of birth parents and their children. Politics have played an increasing role in this drop, too.
When hopeful adoptive parents from the U.S. travel to another country to adopt, they often enter a whole new world: one with different cultural expectations, adoption regulations and language barriers. Unfortunately, it’s more common than not that crucial information is lost in translation — the adoptee’s personal background, whether their birth parents actually gave consent for adoption, or whether the adoption professional actually did their due diligence before placing the child for adoption. As the South Korean story shows, it’s an opportunity ripe for exploitation.
The ethical dilemmas of international adoption extend far beyond the placement period, though. Individuals who are adopted from another country rarely have the ability to know who their birth parents are or what their adoption story is. They face identity struggles in assimilating to their new culture, often with a huge language and cultural barrier. International adoption is a lifelong journey, and it can be full of heartbreak for everyone involved — for adoptees who can’t create a self-identity and adoptive parents who face questions from their children that they can’t answer.
Any hopeful parent considering an international adoption must research their options thoroughly and understand the pros and cons of this process ahead of them. We encourage any prospective adoptive parent to speak with both domestic and international adoption agencies before starting. Only that way can you understand the difference between each and determine which you are most comfortable with.
Find more information on international adoption here before making the best decision for your family.