After taking testimony from adoptees living in the United States and Europe, the South Korea Truth and Reconciliation Commission is launching an investigation into dozens of cases involving children who may have been wrongfully removed from their families, the Associated Press reports.
There may be hundreds of cases to examine among South Koreans separated from their birth families as children, who, according to the AP, comprise the world’s largest diaspora of adoptees.
Following a Dec. 20 meeting, the commission decided to examine the cases of 34 adoptees sent to Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and the United States from the 1960s through the early 1990s. The adoptees say their cases involve falsified documents that fabricated identities and corrupt practices, such as the inaccurate labeling of children as orphans.
“The lifelong impacts of these injustices on adoptees, their Korean families and adopted families cannot be understated,” Jasmine Healey, an attorney representing some of those applying to have their cases investigated told NPR.
Healey said some children have grown up with the identities of another child, leading to reunifications with the wrong families, and difficulty finding their roots.
“The inability to know who you are, who you belonged to, where you came from, to be cut off from knowing your family history, which is such a strong pillar of identity, the consequences of this could be dire or sometimes devastating for adoptees,” she said.
Roughly 200,000 Korean children were adopted overseas over the past six decades, largely to white parents in the U.S. and Europe, according to the Korea-based nonprofit Global Oversees Adoptee Link. So far, more than 300 have asked the commission to review their cases.
The initial 34 cases the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will examine adoptions through Holt Children’s Services and the Korea Social Service, according to the AP. Additional cases submitted for review involve adoptees in Sweden and Australia, and involve the Eastern Social Welfare Society and Korean Welfare Services.
They cite a range of grievances amid loose government monitoring. AP reports that many children labeled as orphans had relatives who could have easily been found.
Meanwhile, South Korean laws have allowed profit-driven agencies to manipulate records and bypass proper relinquishment processes for the children and infants, born to poor families and unwed mothers.
Most of the South Korean adoptees sent abroad were registered by adoption agencies as legal orphans found abandoned on the streets, a designation that made the adoption process quicker and easier. But many of the so-called orphans had relatives who could be easily identified and found.
Any findings of fraudulent adoptions made by the commission could give the adoptees the right to sue their adoption agencies or the South Korean government for damages.
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