This article is the 31st in a series about Koreans adopted abroad. In pursuing the truth, we must adhere to the principle of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Anything less than the absolute truth is nearly equivalent to a lie. Seeing as the authorities in the country of origin and receiving countries lack interest in launching their own investigations, the continuation of the “Dialogues with Adoptees” article series will attempt to initiate its own attempts to uncover the truth. To fix the system, we must first clarify what is wrong. ― ED.
By Lee Kyung-eun
On Jan. 24, 2019, Shin Song-hyuk (better known as Adam Crapser), internationally adopted from Korea to the United States, filed a petition with the Seoul Central District Court against the Korean government and Holt Children’s Services Inc. for violating his rights during his adoption process. Although the plaintiff’s story garnered worldwide media attention, his lawsuit represents a historic legal first. Referred to as case number 2019 GA-HAP 502520 (because Korea does not include the parties involved in the names of legal cases), this petition is the first and only attempt by an inter-country adoptee to hold the Korean government accountable for failing to uphold its duty in such an adoption.
According to the petition, the plaintiff was born in South Korea in 1975 and adopted to the United States in 1979. In 2016, 37 years after his adoption, he was deported to South Korea due to the non-acquisition of U.S. citizenship. Instead of delving further into his personal story, which has been amply covered in the media, this article will examine the claims against the Korean government and Holt Children’s Services Inc., and their lack of accountability.
Unfortunately, awareness about this lawsuit remains low within Korea and among adoptees. It is particularly tragic as the wrongful acts committed against the plaintiff stem from legislation, legal procedures and practices that have affected a majority of those adopted from Korea. In other words, regardless of whether adoptees obtained the citizenship of the receiving country, the claims of this case are not isolated to the plaintiff. On the contrary, they represent wider harms perpetrated against most Korean adoptees. Hence, more people ― especially adoptees ― should know more about this case. Therefore, the following articles in this series will be dedicated to examining the issues raised in the petition.
Although Korean laws afforded little protection to children in the 1970s, the issues raised in the petition were egregiously illegal even for that time. This fact illustrates the inadequate and deteriorating adoption and child protection procedures and practices of that era. The following list of violations against the plaintiff clearly demonstrates the breadth of the illicit acts involved.
The plaintiff has suffered the following rights violations: the right to know and preserve his true identity due to the fraudulent falsification of his orphan registration (a birth registration reserved for children without their parents’ information); damages from physical, mental and emotional abuse inflicted in the course of the adoption, the dissolution of the adoption and the consequential multiple moves to other homes and the effects of those events; violation of the right to acquire and have the nationality of his adoptive country; violation of personality rights and the right to pursue happiness due to deportation.
The plaintiff’s rights have been violated by a number of unlawful acts committed through the cooperative efforts of the government of the Republic of Korea and Holt Children’s Services Inc. The charges against the defendants are as follows:
Alleged illegal acts of Republic of Korea:
Negligence of its duty to protect its national in the process of inter-country adoption.
Unconstitutional use of proxy adoptions, a practice stipulated in the Adoption Special Procedure Act.
Negligence of its duty to monitor and audit the practices of adoption agencies.
Violation of its obligation to perform due diligence in the process of allowing children to leave the country to be adopted transnationally. The government had a duty to execute this crucial step by ensuring that a relevant authority would verify the legitimacy of the adoption agencies’ procedures. However, it failed to do so, thereby being in severe dereliction of duty.
Failure to monitor and verify the citizenship acquisition of inter-country adoptees, as prescribed by law.
Negligence of its obligation to fulfill post-adoption monitoring of the plaintiff’s adoption.
Failure to uphold the international norms that seek to prevent financial gain by allowing the inclusion of such unethical practices in the implementation ordinance of the Special Adoption Procedure Act.
Alleged illegal acts of Holt Children’s Services Inc.:
Holt is among the original four accredited adoption agencies authorized by the government to engage exclusively in inter-country adoptions from Korea for foreign adoptive parents. The original intent of granting such exclusive power should have been to secure the protection and welfare of children adopted abroad. However, rather than fulfilling this aim, it abused its power and engaged in gross child rights violations to reap financial benefits from its adoption business.
In the case of the plaintiff, despite knowing about the existence of the mother and father, Holt proceeded to provide fraudulent information to the registry office to register the plaintiff as an abandoned orphan.
The allegations are: negligence in the conduct of its duty to serve as a guardian and protect the children under its care; illegally relinquishing and transferring guardianship to the agencies of the receiving countries; failure to execute its obligations to provide support in the acquisition of citizenship for adoptees and to verify the acquisition in accordance with the relevant laws of the receiving countries.
These claims are obvious international human rights violations that expose the shortcomings of the Korean government to uphold international standards and safeguards to protect the rights of children in adoption. However, as the lawsuit was filed with the Korean Civil Court, the petition remains limited to the national legal protections available at the time of the wrongdoing. Even under these circumstances, the defendants’ flagrant infringements of the plaintiff’s rights constitute serious transgressions.
However, as the violations described in this article represent the broader consequences of Korea’s inter-country adoption program, it is no coincidence that many adoptees may discover similarities in their own cases and in the issues raised in this lawsuit. Therefore, anybody adopted from South Korea may find some interest in this case.
For this reason, the next few articles will feature excerpts of the amicus brief submitted to the court as expert testimony. These pieces will be dedicated to elaborating on the main legal points of the case. But rather than serving as a legal review, the hope is that adoptees will not only recognize the injustices they experienced, but also gain greater awareness and understanding of their rights, which constitute the first step in human rights advocacy. This case is still pending in the first instance court.
Lee Kyung-eun (Ph.D. in law) is director of Human Rights Beyond Borders and author of the Korean-language book, “The Children-selling Country,” and the English book, “The Global Orphan Adoption System; South Korea’s Impact on Its Origin and Development.”