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South Korea’s central authority on adoption lacks information

Far from being the central authority needed to adhere to Hague standards, K-Care’s launching disappoints adoptees

July 24, 2009/The Hankyoreh

Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, an adoptee, visited Korea Central Adoption Resources (K-Care) on July 15. She was adopted to the U.S. in 1976 and has recently returned to South Korea to find out more information about her personal history and adoption. The first place she visited in South Korea was Eastern Social Welfare Society, the adoption agency that had processed her intercountry adoption placement. There, she was told that she had been left at Seongaewon, an orphanage in Wonju in Gangwon province. When Dobbs went to Wonju, however, she found no records of her birth or origin there. The next place she turned to was K-Care.

The day of her visit coincided with the opening ceremony of K-Care. The K-Care staff, busy preparing for the ceremony, seemed thrown aback by Dobbs’ visit. One staff managed to access the Adoptees Search System and entered Dobbs’ Korean name, ‘Kwon Young-mi,’ into the database, however, all they were able to retrieve was her name, gender, date of birth, date of adoption, adoptive country, adoption agency and the name of her adoptive parents. Dobbs had already known all of this information. The search system produced little results, and did not have either the names of her birth parents or further information describing the circumstances leading up to her time in the baby orphanage and her adoption. K-Care staff made attempts in vein to call the Eastern Social Welfare Society to retrieve her information. In the end, Dobbs received meager assistance from K-Care as they had little by way of resources.

Although their activities yield little results, the opening ceremony for the new central authority held at the Franciscan Education Center in Seoul’s Jeong-dong was grand. The heads of the four major adoption agencies (Holt Children’s Services, Eastern Social Welfare Society, Social Welfare Society, and Korea Social Services), including Molly Holt, the chair of Holt Children’s Services, attended as VIPs. Yoo Young-hak, the Minister of Health and Welfare, said in his congratulatory remarks, “I thank the four adoption agencies for giving us their full trust and support, and the government will do all it can to make K-Care a success.”

No recognizable improvement from its predecessor agency, GAIPS

Hankyoreh 21’s cover story of Issue 760 emphasizes the importance of creating a central authority to oversee adoption in response to intercountry adoption that has been left to the market. The creation of a central authority is one of the core stipulations in the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption. The proposed revision of South Korea’s Adoption Law that is covered in the story also emphasizes the necessity of a central state agency. Currently, the amendment to the adoption law is still in the discussion stage at the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The current situation leaves the future of K-Care in a precarious state. All of K-Care’s funding comes from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which has allocated 721 million Won for the creation of a central authority. That said, none of the four adoption agencies that operate in South Korea has yet transferred over their data on birth parents to K-Care. Lee Myunglim, the chair of Korea Social Services, says, “It is not yet possible for adoption agencies to pass on all their data to K-Care.” This makes it impossible for K-Care to create an integrated adoption information management system and fulfill its main objective. Furthermore, unlike central authorities in other countries that have ratified the Hague Convention, K-Care lacks the legal authority to force adoption agencies to disclose their data.

At this time, it seems impossible to expect K-Care to function as a central authority coordinating or providing resources about South Korea’s adoption policy. A figure at K-Care says, “It may be the case that K-Care was opened prematurely when our country has not yet revised the Adoption Law.” Observers are saying the creation and launching of K-Care has made little improvement in the current state of adoption affairs or improved upon the services formerly provided by the Global Adoption Information and Post Services Center) (GAIPS). The Welfare Ministry and the four adoption agencies had created the adoption information center, but several cite K-Care’s predecessor for also failing to establish an integrated information network.

What should Dobbs do now? It has not been easy for intercountry adoptees to access information, although increasingly large numbers have been trying since the 1980s. Dobbs is hoping to find more information before she returns to the U.S., as are several intercountry adoptees who find themselves in South Korea this summer for the 2009 First Trip Home organized and the upcoming Global Oversees Adoptees’ Link (G.O.A.L) Annual Conference that will be taking place at Sogang University in Seoul, from July 31-August 1, 2009.

Translated by Kang ShinWoo

2009 Jul 24