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Danish report underscores 'systematic illegal behavior' in adoptions of children from South Korea

A Danish report says that adoptions of children from South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s to Denmark was “characterized by systematic illegal behavior" in the Asian country

Jan M. Olsen
Thursday 25 January 2024 14:25 GMT

A Danish report on Thursday said that adoptions of children from South Korea to Denmark in the 1970s and 1980s was “characterized by systematic illegal behavior” in the Asian country.

These violations, the report said, made it “possible to change information about a child's background and adopt a child without the knowledge of the biological parents.”

The report was the latest in a dark chapter of international adoptions. In 2013, the government in Seoul started requiring foreign adoptions to go through family courts. The move ended the decadeslong policy of allowing private agencies to dictate child relinquishments, transfer of custodies and emigration.

The Danish Appeals Board, which supervises international adoptions, said there was “an unfortunate incentive structure where large sums of money were transferred between the Danish and South Korean organizations" over the adoptions.

The 129-page report, published by an agency under Denmark's ministry of social affairs, focused on the period from Jan. 1, 1970 to Dec. 31, 1989.

A total of 7,220 adoptions were carried out from South Korea to Denmark during the two decades.

The report based it findings on 60 cases from the three privately run agencies in Denmark — DanAdopt, AC Boernehjaelp and Terres des Hommes — that handled adoptions from South Korea. The first two merged to become Danish International Adoption while the third agency closed its adoptions in 1999.

The agency wrote that two of the agencies — DanAdopt and AC Boernehjaelp — “were aware of this practice” of changing information about the child's background.

The report was made after a number of issues raised by the organization Danish Korean Rights Group. In 2022, Peter Møller, the head of the rights group, also submitted documents at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Seoul.

“Danish organizations continuously expressed a desire to maintain a high number of adoptions of children with a specific age and health profile from South Korea,” the report said. The South Korean agencies that sent kids to Denmark were Holt Children’s Services and the Korea Social Service.

Boonyoung Han of the Danish activist group, told The Associated Press that an independent investigation was still needed because with such a probe “we expect that those responsible will finally be held accountable for their actions.”

In the late 1970s and mid-1980s, South Korean agencies aggressively solicited newborns or young children from hospitals and orphanages, often in exchange for payments, and operated maternity homes where single mothers were pressured to give away their babies. Adoption workers toured factory areas and low-income neighborhoods in search of struggling families who could be persuaded to give away their children.

On Jan. 16, Denmark’s only overseas adoption agency DIA said that it was “winding down” its facilitation of international adoptions after a government agency raised concerns over fabricated documents and procedures that obscured children’s biological origins abroad. In recent years, DIA had mediated adoptions in the Philippines, India, South Africa, Thailand, Taiwan and the Czech Republic.

For years, adoptees in Europe, the United States and Australia have raised alarms about fraud, including babies who were falsely registered as abandoned orphans when they had living relatives in their native countries.

___ Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

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