South Koreans abroad want probe into their past adoptions

Peter Moller, fourth from left, attorney and cofounder of the Danish Korean Rights Group, attends a press conference with a group of South Korean adoptees in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Seoul on Nov. 15.

SEOUL (AP) — A group of South Korean adoptees in Europe rallied in Seoul with their local supporters on Nov. 15, urging South Korean authorities to investigate their adoptions decades ago that they say were based on falsified documents and involved rights abuses.

About 200,000 South Koreans were adopted overseas in the past decades, mostly in the 1970s-’80s and mainly by white parents in the United States and Europe. Critics say past authoritarian leaders in South Korea saw adoptions as a way to reduce the number of mouths to feed, solve the “problem” of unwed mothers and deepen ties with the democratic West.

“Our main goal is that all adoptees should have access to their own true information — background information,” said Peter Moller, attorney and co-head of the Danish Korean Rights Group, who was adopted in Denmark in 1974. “We are now fighting for the rights to know our own true story.”

Moller said his group has so far relayed more than 300 applications by South Korean adoptees abroad calling for investigations of their adoptions by South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His colleagues said that 24 of the applications were filed on Nov. 15 and came from Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, the United States and other countries.

Some adoptees and their supporters demand the Truth and Reconciliation Commission establish that the government should also be held accountable for failing to monitor agencies and confirm whether the uptick in adoptions was fueled by increasingly larger payments and donations from adoptive parents, which apparently motivated agencies to create their own supply. The complaints by adoptees who filed the application include inaccurate or falsified information in adoption papers that distort their biological origins, such as wrong birth names, dates or locations, or details about birth parents.

Moller said his group also submitted to the commission new evidence showing successive South Korean governments played a role in adoptions and “atrocities” committed by the then main adoption agency, Holt. He accused previous governments of initiating adoptions to “deport mixed children, handicapped [children] and children from unwed mothers.” He also blamed Holt for participating in “ethnic cleansing” by deporting mixed children and of being responsible for the alleged sexual abuse of South Korean children in its facilities.

Holt Children’s Services in Seoul didn’t immediately respond to a request for comments on Moller’s accusations.

The rally was peaceful and drew about 10 people including those adopted abroad or domestically and activists. They held a large placard, chanted slogans calling for government investigations of adoptions and took turns to speak in front of the commission building.

“The reason why we want to find the truth of past incidents isn’t meant to punish someone but is meant to resolve the resentment [of adoptees] and prevent the recurrence of similar incidents,” activist Min Young Chang read from a joint statement by South Korean civic groups. “When we resolve their resentment, adoptees in foreign countries can recover their identities and reconcile with adoption agencies and the Republic of Korea.”

The commission said it plans to receive applications by adoptees by Dec. 9 and aims to determine whether to launch an investigation by late December. Commission officials said they had been separately contacted by representatives of South Korean adoptees in Sweden, who said they would also send their own formal requests for probes into their adoptions.