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3804Korean-Australian woman finds she was falsely adopted

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  • Sunny Jo
    Sep 18, 2012
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      Korean-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
      was stillborn.

      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
      diseases. Nothing.”

      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
      forged identity.

      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.


      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
      found domestically.

      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