Deaths of Sueppel children add to adoption debate in Korea

Date: 2008-04-01

Deaths of Sueppel children add to adoption debate in Korea

By Alicia Ebaugh
The Gazette
Alicia.Ebaugh@GazetteCommunications.com

The deaths last week of Ethan, Seth, Mira and Eleanor Sueppel set an unfortunate milestone in Korean adoptions, officials at the family's adoption agency said — they were the first Korean children to die at the hands of an American adoptive parent.

"Obviously, the people of Korea are as shocked and saddened as we are here over the tragic deaths of these children," said Susan Soon-Keum Cox, vice president of public policy and external affairs for Holt International Children's Services. "It is a human tragedy that has implications for those involved in adoptions because the children were adopted. It adds a whole new level of poignancy and grief."

The news of the murders — Sheryl Sueppel and the four children, ranging in age from 7 to 10, died at the hands of husband and father Steven Sueppel in their Iowa City home — reached Cox when she was visiting her employer's partner agency, Holt Korea, in Korea.

The story has become part of the country's debate over the adoption of Korean babies overseas. Overseas adoption has a "long history" in Korea, Cox said, and there is now a push to have more children adopted in South Korea.

"There are still hundreds of children each year who would still live in orphanages if it wasn't for overseas adoption," Cox said.

Cox said neither she nor Holt Korea officials could discuss the Sueppel children's adoptions because of "confidentiality concerns."

However, several English-language South Korean newspapers ran an article Thursday by the Yonhap News Agency quoting an unnamed Holt Korea official as saying after-adoption reports showed the Sueppels "had no problems." The four children may have been siblings, according to the article.

The Sueppels were "well qualified" to adopt foreign children in terms of their finances, relationship and religious beliefs, the article said.

The Holt adoption agencies, although they are separate entities, are Christian-based, named after an American couple who adopted eight Korean children following the end of the Korean War in 1953.

South Korea traditionally has a high rate of overseas adoption. Between 150,000 and 200,000 children have been internationally adopted from Korea since the early 1950s, compared to fewer than 90,000 domestic adoptions. All but seven of the 1,388 children adopted internationally from Korea last year were placed with families in the United States, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The adoption of a South Korean child costs a family an average of $20,000 to $30,000 before federal tax credits or other benefits, according to a 2007 study by Adoptive Families magazine.

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