exposing the dark side of adoption
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When her mother came to see her, Holt lied and said she’d already been adopted


Maria Damm Hansen. Adopted at 1 year old. Currently 46 years old. Denmark.

For 46 years I was told, and I believed, that I was an orphan and a foundling, adopted from Namkwang Children’s Home through the Korea Social Service (KSS). Everything is a lie and today KSS tells me a totally different story.

I was born on Oct. 4, 1976, and referred to KSS immediately after birth through San Ho Midwifery Clinic located in the Sadang neighborhood of Gwanak District, Seoul. Within 24 hours of my life, I was ready for adoption.

Furthermore, KSS tells me that I have a biological mother (last name Lee) and a biological father (last name Yom), three siblings, and that I have a fraternal twin brother. Because of extreme poverty, my biological father decided to keep and raise my twin brother and release me for adoption.

This new information has come to me as a shock and my whole identity has been turned upside down. I do not feel upset or angry in any way toward my biological parents. But I am devastated to find that the adoption bureaus have treated me and so many other adoptees like pieces of furniture, lied to us about our whole adoption and identity, in an attempt to ensure that it would be almost impossible to find one’s biological family and find the truth — even today. KSS still denies me access to valuable information they claim they have.

I really do hope the Truth and Reconciliation Commission can lead the way and ensure that adoptees find valuable information, to make it possible to reunite with our families and restore our authentic identities.

Marjolein Myung Sun Kim van Heeswijk. Adopted at 2-3 months old. Currently 36. Netherlands.

I was adopted in 1986. “The biggest Christmas present of all time.” That’s what I always hear every year at Christmas. I loved this sentiment back in the day.

I was raised in a very warm family in Holland; a mother, father and two older sisters. They always support me, and they have always thought of my biological family. But we don’t know who they are. Their names — father: Kim Chang-sun March 03, 1952; mother: Kim Young-sun Aug. 8, 1952 — are unreal. KSS said this several times to my adoptive adoption father when he tried to search in 1993 and they kept telling him that. He tried several times to get information for me should I need or want it later in my life. He never got additional information. Now I have started searching. I had hoped the adoption agency would give me more information, because I am the adopted person. I don’t know what more I can do to get my answers.

This publication gives me a tiny bit of hope. Everything is a question mark and KSS stopped my searching after 7 weeks instead of 3-6 months. They accepted my request on Jan. 25 this year and sent me an email on March 17 that they had stopped their search. Is my date of birth Oct. 7, 1986? Was I born at 1:25 pm? If this is true, then this is my only starting point for the search.

’m 36 years old now and looking for my birth family and the story of the beginning of my life. I have two young sons: Kees (5) and Huub (3) and I have been together with my Willem for 16 years and 4 months. We will explore South Korea for the first time this spring. We will be in South Korea on Adoption Day (May 11). I will give my DNA to the missing children’s database and hope someone is also looking for me.

It’s very important for me to know who I am. I’m having a very hard time at the moment, and I really hope to find all the puzzle pieces of my roots. It will be so special to meet my biological family and to see if we have similarities in looks but also in character.

Tobias Hübinette. Adopted at 7 months. Currently 52 years old. Sweden.

Time for reconciliation and reckoning for the Korean adoptees and their birth parents and families!

I was born somewhere in the southern part of the South Jeolla Province and am said to have been found on a moving train in the vicinity of Yeosu at the estimated age of about 1 month in September 1971. I was then transported to the provincial headquarter of Korea Welfare Services (KWS) in Gwangju which at that time was known as the Child Placement Service (CPS) and which was led by Tahk Youn-taek, who passed away last year at the age of 99 years. Around 7 months old, I was then adopted to Sweden in March 1972 and my name changed from Lee Sam-dol to Tobias Hübinette.

I grew up in the small industrial town of Motala in mid-South Sweden and my father was a welder and my mother a kindergarten teacher. Three years after my arrival, my parents adopted another child from Korea – a girl who also derives from South Jeolla Province like myself. I had my share of racism when I grew up, but I was never bullied although it was a racially isolating experience as me and my sister and a few other adopted kids from Korea were more or less the only Asians in Motala.

I had good grades in school which allowed me to study Irish at Uppsala University and later on Korean Studies at Stockholm University, where I finally earned my Ph.D. with a thesis: the first postcolonial feminist treatise on the Korean adoption issue. At the same time, I had already become politically involved in the Korean adoptee community in the 1990s and I have continued to be so ever since, including being active both in Sweden, Korea and elsewhere.

I have also contributed to the development of the global academic fields of Korean adoption studies and critical adoption studies and am considered something of a pioneer within the academic world. I’ve published the book “Overseas adoption and Korean nationalism: Images of overseas adoption and adopted Koreans in Korean popular culture” (from publisher Sonamoo in 2008), among others.

The global practice of international adoption was born in South Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War, and it can well be said to be one of Korea’s unique inventions to the rest of the world and to human history including the movable metal type for printing and the iron plate armor for warships.

Ever since the 1990s, it has been an established fact among us Korean adoptee activists, as well as among Korean adoption researchers, that a huge proportion and probably most of all of these 200,000 South Korean adoptions to the West have been conducted in an unethical and even illegal manner.

Most of these children were not orphans at all and many, if not most, of the adoption documents have been thoroughly falsified and manipulated on a systematic level including the full erasure of real family backgrounds, the conscious changing of birth dates and birthplaces and the bizarre manufacturing of the false clan seat or “bongwan,” which were invented by the adoption agencies with the sole purpose of concealing and erasing all traces of the adopted children to their real families.

We know today that the practice of international adoption developed into a fully fledged, corruption-ridden and profit-driven industry in South Korea, as well as globally, which severed the ties between the adoptees and their Korean parents forever and devastated the lives of countless people involved on a massive scale and not the least the lives of the adoptees themselves who at all too many times were subjected to racism, sexual abuse and a general marginalization in their Western adoptive countries.

After 70 years of non-stop international adoption from South Korea to the West it is therefore high time now to put a final end to this shameful and dark chapter in modern Korean history once and for all and at the same time try to find some kind of reconciliation and reckoning, for adoptees as well as our Korean families.

How this reconciliation and reckoning will come about and what it will contain is not yet clear but one step forward is at least to investigate and disclose the full unethical, illegal and even criminal part of the adoption industry and to condemn it once and for all and thereafter hopefully an official apology will follow as well as a final end to international adoption itself, as these ingredients are the preconditions for the beginning of a truth and reconciliation process encompassing the South Korean state, the Korean people, the 200,000 Korean adoptees and their Korean parents and families as well as their Western parents and families.

May-Britt Koed. Adopted at 7 months old. Currently 46 years old. Denmark.

My name, given by Holt, is Kim Soo Jung. My Danish name is May-Britt Koed.

I am a Danish Korean adoptee, who touched Danish ground the first time on May 17, 1977. I was picked up at Copenhagen Airport on a sunny morning, by my beloved mother and father. The 7 months in Korea from when I was born, I have no recollection, but what I do know is that I cried and had nightmares for more than a year after my arrival.

Landing in a family full of love and affection in a small community in the countryside, I have never really experienced any awful things related to the fact that I was different. I guess, it was more my inner self, who had a need to always be the best in school, the best at sports, the best friend, the best daughter, et cetera.

Both of my beloved parents got cancer and passed away within two years of each other when I was in my 20s.

Growing up, I never had any interest in looking into my past and background, but losing the only family I had, and having children of my own, started making me wonder.

In 2009, I sat foot on Korean ground for the first time since I left in 1977. Believing that I originally came from Seoul as an abandoned child found on the street, I had a wish of seeing the orphanage of where I had been. Finding out after the visit to the orphanage that I am not actually from Seoul, was my first encounter with the shady background that many of us adopted Koreans share.

I chose to close the chapter, since things were too absurd, answers in different directions and invalid information made me confused. It took me 10 years before I had the courage to go back in 2019. In the meantime, I found out I was from Masan (currently Changwon), so my family and I went to the orphanage there. Unfortunately, the building with all the documents had burned down. Like many other Holt facilities that held documents of adoptees. Can it be a coincidence?

I left Korea for the third time, still without any further information.

In 2022, I found out a group was made, where Danish Korean adoptees could share experiences based on our documents. Knowledgeable people were assisting and very fast it became clear to me that most of our cases are based on wrongful and manipulated information. In my case, I found out how to read and understand my adoption files, and the highlights of my case is that I am registered with two birthdates, weight, height and more do not match the given dates.

I am unfortunately one of those who did not make it in time to be part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission case. I struggled for too long with the Danish adoption company DIA to get my files, and even if the Danish National Archives (Rigsarkivet) was very helpful, they could not send me what they had never received from DIA, which by Danish law is required to.

I made a complaint to the governmental authority, the one responsible for supervising DIA, but I never heard from them.

This is the system we as adoptees are facing. I hope that the TRC will discover the truth about the human trafficking of babies and children in general, because that is exactly what it is, if the legal process has not been followed. I hope that with their conclusion, we can get an external investigation also in Denmark, so the people behind these wrongdoings in Denmark will be held accountable. Basic human and children’s rights conventions have been — and are still being — disobeyed and broken, and it has to stop.

We are human beings, those identities have been changed and shuffled around for convenience while big money has been involved.

I do not expect nor wish for an apology. But I do want justice to be fulfilled, and the people responsible for 9,000 Korean babies and children ending up in Denmark alone, to explain why the legal process has not been followed.

We are human beings, we have a human right to know where we come from and when we are born. Just like everyone else.

Kim Thompson. Adopted at 7 months old. Currently 47 years old. USA.

I was born to a young, single, unwed mother in December 1975.

Holt’s version of events has always been that I was found abandoned on the doorstep of a hospital as a near-newborn; and that my exact date of birth, name, and the identity of my umma (mom) were all unknown.

The truth that they intentionally chose to conceal was that my umma had lived at a home specifically for unwed mothers that Holt Korea actively operated at the time — a home that they deny ever existed.

The truth that they intentionally chose to conceal was that she was only allowed to stay there on the condition that she would agree to surrender me to Holt for adoption.

The truth that they intentionally chose to conceal was that they always had my umma’s name and her family's home address — information that she had, with informed consent, provided Holt so that I could find her.

The truth that they intentionally chose to conceal was that Holt actually always knew that my birthday was my actual date of birth, despite claiming they had just guessed at it.

The truth that they intentionally chose to conceal was that my name, which they (Holt) said they had given me, was actually purposely and with meaning given to me by my umma.

The truth that they intentionally chose to conceal was that, despite telling me that my umma had never tried to find me, she had actually returned to Holt a few months after I was born to see me.

The truth that they intentionally chose to conceal from my umma was that when she returned to Holt to find me, they told her I’d already been adopted, but in reality I was in a foster family in Korea at that time as I was not exported to the States until I was 7 months old.

The reason I know that Holt intentionally chose to conceal all of these truths is that in December 2008 — three days before my actual birthday — I found my umma, and she told me her story, and in telling me her story she told me my story that Holt had intentionally chosen to conceal for over 30 years.

To this day, Holt continues to choose to intentionally conceal the truth from adoptees, and when confronted by an adoptee, the typical response is often that we are bitter and ungrateful.

The reason that I know this to be true is that I have an email from the Holt social worker who was working on my case when I was searching for my umma in 2008, in which she let me know how disappointed she was in “adoptees like me” who don’t get “how lucky” we were to be adopted and are instead bitter and ungrateful about our lives.

What I, as an adoptee, beseech the Korean government is for agencies like Holt to be held accountable for the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual damages that their intentional choices to conceal the truth from adoptees have and continues to cause, and to cease to dismiss our voices as being “bitter” and “ungrateful.”

By Koh Kyoung-tae, senior staff writer

Joint planning and execution by Han Boon-young, co-founder of the DKRG

2023 May 17