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2017-09-29 16:21
By Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson



In 2012 the revised Special Adoption Act became effective and is now under revision again. The last revision was made by a coalition of overseas adoptees, unwed mothers and original parents who have lost a child to adoption. Although great achievements were made through the last revision, many problems still exist. Korea Adoption Service (KAS) and private adoption agencies are not offering sufficient birth family search support as prescribed by the act. Additionally, no support is required to help families to search for the children they have lost through adoption.

I have personally carried out a thorough birth family search and have also published booklets about birth family search. After listening to search stories for 15 years, I have drawn the conclusion that the following issues need to be revised during this year's revision.

1) Chapter 5 needs to extend with an article giving original family members, such as parents and siblings, the legal right to search for family members lost through adoption. Today, families have to go to the adoption agencies or KAS to beg them to search for the lost child. It is fairly common that birth families receive no help.

2) Article 36 in the Act must be followed correctly. It states that the adoptee should receive information about the birth parents if they are deceased or for another reason cannot express their consent to release the information, or if the adoptee has a medical problem. However, the agencies and KAS interpreted the Act so that all these three conditions have to be met, which is a highly unlikely scenario. The intention of the law is that at least one of these conditions has to be met. This needs to be clarified in the revision.

3) Article 25 Preservation of Adoption Records and Article 26 need to be followed, i.e. KAS must finish building an integrated database of adopted children, as well as a database for locating biological parents. In April 2017, KAS announced that they have documents from about 20 closed orphanages. However, we have knowledge of about 120 closed orphanages. This means that KAS should trace these documents and add them to their database. Without these documents neither of these articles can be followed.

4) The working manual for social workers needs to be changed so it follows the act. The present manual states that in case the birth parents are not married, a social worker should contact a another family member or someone else close to the parent and tell her or him that the adoptee is searching for the birth mother. This method is unsafe as we cannot know for sure that the message is forwarded to the mother. There is a high risk that the mother never gets the information that her lost child is searching for her. This also means that if the mother gave birth to the child secretly, her secret will be revealed. Such revealing puts the mother in risk that she will be shunned by her family. There is nothing in the act stating that anyone other than the birth parent should be contacted.

South Korea has a long tradition of authoritarian rule. In 1987 the first democratically civilian president was elected. One of the most important democratic principles is rule of law, i.e. that the law is enforced. However, as long as existing laws such as the Special Adoption Act are not enforced and we adoptees and our parents are dependent on social workers’ good will, the country will continue to be a non-democracy or stuck in a democratic transition phase at the best. If South Korea wants to be seen as modern democracy they cannot chose which laws to enforce and which ones to ignore.



Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson is the editor of “Birth Family Search for Korean Adoptee” (2016). Write to hannasofia76@gmail.com.

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