3804Korean-Australian woman finds she was falsely adopted
- Sep 18, 2012Korean-Australian woman finds she was falsely adopted
18 Sep 2012, 9:31 am - Source: Susan Cheong, SBS
An Australian woman has found she was the subject of a falsified
adoption in South Korea, where her biological mother was told her baby
As Australians find it harder to adopt babies from overseas, one woman
has discovered she was falsely adopted from South Korea, where her
biological mother was told her baby was stillborn.
Emily Will* was pronounced dead at birth. Born in a small maternity
home in the countryside of Geoje, Gyeongsandnam-do, the midwife
allegedly told her biological parents the baby was “stillborn”.
“I don’t know how this could have happened to me,” she says. “Why
would someone (the midwife) do that? Why would someone make a choice
for someone else?”
“Her decision changed my life.”
For 23 years, Ms Will believed she was put up for adoption after her
biological parents decided to part ways. Her adoption papers said her
parents were in a de facto relationship, a status considered shameful
in traditional Korean society, with two daughters.
It was not until she became a mother herself, Ms Will became curious
about her biological roots.
“After my daughter was born, something changed. Something changed in
me,” she says.
“I didn’t know my medical history. I didn’t know what I could have
passed on to my kid. I didn’t know if there were any genetic heart
After three years of searching and waiting, Ms Will thought she was
prepared to meet her biological parents.
“It’s well known that you may possibly or most probably have a false
story given to you so you brace yourself,” says Ms Will, 24, a mother
of two in Sydney. “But when you finally get the real story, the story
you thought you had prepared yourself for… it definitely throws you.”
Her emotional reunion with her biological family was set up in a small
room at her South Korean adoption agency, Eastern Social Welfare
“When I saw them my mind went completely blank. I didn’t know what to
think at that stage. It was a bit of a shock. I really didn’t think
this day would come. It was very surreal.”
It was at this meeting Ms Will became aware of the truth of her past;
she was a stolen baby and her parents had in fact been married at the
The experience of Ms Will is uncommon, but not unheard of. Intentional
fabrication, falsification of documents and unintended adoption has
been previously reported in South Korea.
Jane Jeong Trenka, the president of Truth and Reconciliation for the
Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) says many adult Korean adoptees
that have returned to be reunited with their Korean parents have found
themselves to be the subject of a forced adoption, kidnappings or
Ms Trenka says money was the driving force behind illegal adoptions.
“It is widely known today that inter-country adoption is driven by
huge sums of money,” she said. “It is, in fact, an industry.”
“In the days when South Korea was not economically developed, it was a
way to secure precious foreign currency. Today, the inter-country
adoption program is a way to save money on social spending.”
South Korea consistently ranks at, or is near the bottom of, family
welfare spending among OECD countries.
“What we have 60 years after the end of the Korean War is, therefore,
a very developed adoption system and a nearly non-existent domestic
social welfare system that specialises in family separation for
adoption, instead of family preservation,” said Ms Trenka.
More than 200,000 Koreans have been adopted overseas since the end of
the 1950-1953 Korean War. But what began as an incentive to save
thousands of Korean War orphans, many fathered and then deserted by
American GIs, turned into a lucrative industry whereby thousands of
children, mostly born to unwed mothers, were put up for adoption.
In 2011, 88.4 per cent of all intercountry adoptees from South Korea
were relinquished from unwed mothers, a status often frowned upon in
traditional Korean society. Social pressure still drives thousands of
unmarried women to choose between abortion and adoption as they risk
the life of economic difficulty and disgrace.
A NEW APPROACH
Stories such as these have been the motivating factor behind South
Korea’s new adoption policy. Under revised laws, pregnant women
wanting to have their child adopted are given a seven-day deliberation
period on whether to keep or relinquish their child after birth.
Prospective parents are mandated to get court approval before adopting
abandoned children and adoption agencies are required to accurately
register information of their birth parents. Domestic adoption will
continue to be prioritised over inter-country adoption, where overseas
parents will only be allowed to adopt if no adoptive family can be
While the government hopes the change will help encourage birth
mothers to keep their children, they believe the move will also
prevent the self-identity issues and cultural alienation many overseas
adoptees face when they are older.
The change is also part of the government’s move to remove the
international stigma of being a “baby-exporting country”.
For decades, South Korea has been among the top ranking countries to
provide babies for adoption in Australia. However, according to a
report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the number
of adoptions from South Korea has dropped 76 per cent since 2006 and
South Korea is no longer one of the top four countries of origin.
The South Korean government states revised adoption laws is in the
best interests of children, in accordance with the Hague Convention on
the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-County
Adoption. Yet, South Korea is not a signatory to the Hague Convention.
But the revised adoption laws have come too late for Emily Will.
She’s filed a complaint to the Australian Government Attorney
General's department and her case is being investigated.
A spokesperson from the Australian government Attorney General’s
department says it had limited involvement in inter-country adoptions
in the 1980s, at the time Ms Will was adopted and is not aware of
similar cases in Australia.
While Australia has been party to the Hague Convention since 1998, the
Australian government can only request the relevant overseas authority
make appropriate enquiries into the circumstances surrounding the
child trafficking concerns or allegations, once credible concerns are
Yet, Ms Trenka says it’s the joint responsibility of both countries to
ensure adoption processes are ethical and transparent.
“Right now governments are only pointing the finger at each other.
Adoptees are being told that to take legal action, they would have had
to report the crime within the [10 year] statute of limitations,” she
says. “But how can an adoptee file a suit when they are still a
“Adoption should not be treated as a retail industry. It’s not an
exporting importing thing. We’re human beings. We’re not products.
We’re not for sale. You can’t put a price on a human life,” Ms Will
* Names have been changed for privacy reasons