Children cut away from Parents: Shadows of the Intercountry Adoption Business

Nov. 02, 2023, 08:00 PM.

South Korea is the country with the longest history of sending its children abroad for adoption. The number of adoptees sent is the largest. Over the past 70 years, 200,000 children have been sent to other countries as orphans or abandoned ones. Illegalities such as document falsification and human rights violations cases are appearing above surface one after another. Some suspect that intercountry adoption has been a huge cash cow business. The Korea Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa(KCIJ-Newstapa) begins the ‘Intercountry Adoption and Money’ project to find the victims, benefiters and those responsible, and to identify structural problems. [Editor's note]
Over the past 70 years, 170,000 South Korean children have been adopted abroad according to official statistics. The unofficial number is estimated to reach 250,000. 
While the intercountry adoption business led by private adoption agencies grew indiscriminately, various illegalities such as falsification of adoption documents and human rights violations occurred. 
Due to the lies and fabrications of adoption agencies, many overseas adoptees were not only separated from their families, but also suffered from identity crises. 
In 2022, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a state-run temporary organization, began investigating human rights abuses and illegalities in the adoption process of 270 overseas adoptees. It’s the first time in the decades-long history of intercountry adoption that the government investigates human rights abuses and illegalities.
Until the outcome of the Commission's investigation is published, KCIJ-Newstapa plans to report on the document falsifications in the adoption process, the lies and greed of adoption agencies, and the government's role in turning a blind eye.

Adoption agencies’ lies and their victims

In September, KCIJ-Newstapa met adoptees in Copenhagen, Denmark, who were sent by adoption agencies. Denmark is the fourth largest destination for South Korean-born children, following the United States, France and Sweden.
The adoptees we met shared stories of long years of suffering due to lies and manipulation by adoption agencies. Some said an agency took away healthy newborns from their parents and sent them abroad, after lying to the parents that the babies were stillborn. 

Adoptees want to know the truth

Cases of agencies’ manipulation began to affect other Korean-born adoptees sent overseas. Suddenly, a huge sense of confusion hit them that their adoption also may have been actually rigged. 
Many of them realized that their adoption papers were in fact a mess: Date of birth was mixed up, the child's whereabouts before adoption were mixed up, and even the baby's appearance on the adoption papers didn't match the baby's actual appearance. Adoptees now wonder if their papers were created from pieces of two children's documents.

Mother's name is locked in adoption agency

Overseas adoptees visit South Korea to find any pieces of information about their identity and the birth family. However, most of them fail to obtain any useful information as the adoption agencies don’t disclose documents to the adoptees.
The adoptees are often told that the agencies have the mother's name but can’t disclose it. And the agencies claim that the relevant documents belong to them.  
KCIJ-Newstapa will disclose the realities of the adoptees who travel back to South Korea to find their identity and birth family are denied the right to know their identity. 

The adoption business

In the early stages of adoption in South Korea, the country was unable to raise its own children and had to rely on intercountry adoption.
But since the 1970s, even as its economy rapidly grew, intercountry adoptions have only increased. This mystery is hard to explain without business interests surrounding intercountry adoption. 
KCIJ-Newstapa is tracking where the nation’s four largest adoption agencies’ income – adoption fees and donations – went. In the coming months, we will also report on who has been making how much money at the expense of these victims, and how the government is responsible in this system. 
Reporting Kang Hye-in, Lee Myung-ju, Byun Ji-min
Video Reporting Shin Young-chul, Oh Joon-sik, Jung Hyung-min, Kim Ki-chul
Video Editing Jung Ji-sung, Park Seo-young
CG Jung Dong-woo
Design Lee Do-hyeon
Publication Heo Hyeon-jae
Translation Sinae Choi
Translation Proofreading Lee Myung-ju