(Former) Washington State Senator Paull Shin, French digital economy minister Fleur Pellerin and French Senator Jean-Vincent Place. They all have something in common.
All three are Korean adoptees who have become successes in their adopted countries.
Behind the success stories of those people, however, are others who suffer emotional distress after being adopted by foreign parents.
Adoptees’ rights activists say many of the children sent for inter-racial adoption suffer racial and other social discrimination, constantly longing for their biological parents and homeland.
In the United States, a country where adoptees must undergo a separate procedure to obtain citizenship, more than a few adoptees never become naturalized, partly due to indifference from their adoptive parents.
According to South Korea’s health and welfare ministry and an activist group devoted to Korean adoptees’ human rights, there are 23,000 Korean adoptees in the U.S. whose citizenship status the groups do not know.
The figure represents about 20 percent of some 110,000 adoptees sent to America over the past 60 years since the 1950-53 Korean War.
A majority of those 23,000, in fact, appear to have obtained U.S. nationality but the true figure remains unknown due to local adoption agencies’ poor management of post-adoption information.
“Most of the unconfirmed cases may be caused by the agencies’ failure to inform the government of information on adoptees’ acquisition of U.S. nationality,” said Rev. Kim Do-hyun of the activist group KoRoot. “But several thousand of them are still believed to be living without any nationality.”
In recent years, a sizable number of adoptees have been deported to Korea after being convicted of criminal charges while living overseas without becoming citizens of the country in which they live.
“As far as I know, there are more than 100,000 adoptees who voluntarily returned or were deported to South Korea while living without nationality,” Kim said. “But the actual number may be larger than this when the number of people who live in South Korea without telling others they were deported, for fear of possible disadvantages, is counted.”
The returnees are often unwelcome in Korean society, also.
Except for those with professional skills or fluency in the Korean language, most face language and cultural barriers.
Some return to locate their biological parents and find their true Korean identity only to discover that all the personal information they thought they knew about themselves was fabricated to facilitate their adoption.
Michael Kang, 36, was a victim of such so-called “child laundering.”
The young man, whose original Korean name is Kang Yong-mun, returned to South Korea in 2006, nearly 23 years after being sent for adoption to the U.S.
After his return, Kang discovered he has two different family registries, including the original with the names of his actual Korean family members. The second family registry, forged by a local agency that matched children with families wanting to adopt, described him as an orphan although his parents were alive, in order to bypass the U.S. adoption rule that only orphans can be adopted without parental approval.
Kang was one of the lucky ones, as he eventually located and met his Korean parents, back here in South Korea.
“After comparing two registries — one from my biological father and the other discovered by my friend — I came to know that the documents used for (my) adoption were fabricated,” Kang said. “I felt that the Korean adoption system is corrupt and I was abandoned,” he said, recalling that discovery with anger.
Kang said his first adoption failed due to ill-treatment by his adoptive parents and he underwent repeated adoptions and dissolutions.
Child laundering was so common among local adoption agencies in the past that South Korea became notorious as one of the world’s largest exporters of “orphans.” A new law that came into effect in August of (2012) this year requires the birth certificate of the child be included in the documents required for any adoption.
The total number of Korean-born children adopted to foreign parents reached 164,000 as of this year. Holt Children’s Services Inc., a Seoul-based adoption agency, said the number of children available for adoption has halved since the law went into effect.
Adoption agencies argue they had no other way but to fabricate facts and circumstances about the children they sought to place in order to provide them with new homes, because in many cases the children were living in orphanages and the agencies could not meet the biological parents to obtain consent.
Kang is far from the only victim of such child laundering. Jane Jeong Trenka, 40, was represented as an orphan by a local adoption agency although her mother and twin sister were alive. She was adopted by an American couple six months after her birth.
Personal records of almost all adoptees were fabricated in this way, Jeong said. After seeing fabricated documents on them while growing up, children are shocked to know that they were abandoned by their biological parents, she said, adding this constitutes violence against humans.
She called for a government role in scrutinizing adoption agencies and ensuring they provide correct personal information on adoptees.
Rev. Kim said adoption had long been considered a good deed of finding new homes for lonely children but that the unnerving truth has surfaced with the return of adult adoptees to the country.
“The nation should make efforts to create an environment in which unmarried mothers are encouraged to raise their own children rather than encouraging them to choose adoption, which separates children from their birth parents,” Kim said. (Yonhap)