by Kara Bos, born in South Korea and adopted to the USA. (French Translation kindly provided by Nicolas Beaufour)
It’s been two months since the fateful day of the verdict of my court case where I was recognised as being my biological Korean father’s daughter, 99.981% by the Seoul Family Court. I’ve held countless interviews and there are currently 10 pages of Google that host the numerous articles written about my paternal lawsuit and search journey. I would and could not have imagined that this would happen, and I’m still in awe of it all. However, 2 months after the spotlight and shock of what happened is finally settling in. I’m realising that in my everyday life and in my search journey for my mother, nothing has really changed. I still do not know who she is, and have not been able to meet her. I’m back home with my beautiful family and traversing life as I did before, and continue to be ignored by my father and his family. The hurt and questions that burdened by heart before are still present, and even though victories were won and I’m being cheered on by many different adoptee/non-adoptee communities my search journey is ongoing without any real hope of it coming full circle. I’m in survival mode again as each day passes by and I try to focus on the here and now; enjoying the amazing life I have, the amazing family I have, but in the back of my mind I’m still agonising over those unanswered questions that I had worked so hard to get answered.
It’s amazing how we as adoptees manage it all if I do say so myself. We are expected to forget the trauma surrounding our circumstances of arriving into our new families. We are expected to move on, and not dawdle on mere things of the past, as what good will come of it? We are expected to be thankful and happy for the new life we’ve been given and if we dare to search for our roots, then what went wrong in our childhood that we would ever have this longing? Are we not happy or thankful for our current families? I’ve been criticized quite a bit since my trial broke headlines around the globe from strangers and even loved ones with these types of questions. As often as I say I can brush it off, it of course does hurt. How is it that people are so ignorant about adoption and the complexities involved?
This has become my mantra alongside restorative justice for adoptees right to origin; to educate the everyday person on the street to gain even if it’s a sliver of understanding that adoption is so much more complex then how it was and still is currently packaged and sold: adoptive parents are saviours and adopted children have been rescued from poverty and should be thankful for the new life they’ve been given. I want to tell you that most adoptees are thankful for their new lives, as we’ve been told since we were young to be so. Most adoptees are also afraid to search for their origins or birth families as they feel it will be a betrayal to their adoptive families. Most adoptees also will fall into an identity crisis at some point in their lives, since most are raised in a homogeneous Caucasian society and it’s natural that they will at some point recognise that they themselves are not Caucasian. When most adoptees search it is completely not associated with whether or not they are thankful for their families or lives, and whether or not they love their families or have a good relationship with them. It has everything to do with the fundamental need of knowing as a human being where one comes from, and seeking answers to those life questions.
My lawsuit was representative of a girl searching for her mother and all the culminating events that led to that fateful day of June 12th, 2020. I never imagined even finding a family member, let alone my father; and I never imagined I would file a lawsuit against him. I’ve rehashed countless times in my interviews and all social media platforms that it was never my goal. If my father or his family would have given answers to who my mother was discreetly, does one really think I would go to these excruciatingly painful lengths? Do I not as an adoptee, have a right to know these answers? Does a birth family right to privacy outweigh my right to know my origins? These are questions that are now circulating because of my lawsuit and interviews I have done. Thousands of Koreans in Korea for maybe the first time discussed my actions and in the overwhelming majority of those comments were in favour of my father taking responsibility and telling me whom my mother is. The court also agreed with the legal recognition of myself as my father’s daughter, forcing him to add me to his family register even though my closed adoption case from 1984 through Holt completely stripped me of any family in Korea.
The question remains, will it continue? Will my lawsuit actually set precedent and bring out systemic change? Or will it bring harm to the birth search quest as some critics claim? Only time will tell, but my hope is that the Korean government will give restorative justice to an adoptee’s right to origin when they revise the Adoption Act of 2012. Therefore taking responsibility in their role in sending the more than 200,000 adoptees away and allowing us our rightful place to find our way back “home.”
Recently it was announced there is a surrogate company in Ukraine which will remain with hundreds of ordered but undelivered babies due to the coronavirus. They can’t be picked up during the lockdown by their foreign parents. In RTL 4 news post we see upset nurses and hear the lawyer of the adoption company talking about the importance of these babies going to their foreign parents as soon as possible.
The bizarre thing is that by commissioning the surrogacy and / or the adoption company, these babies are taken from their mother, their origins and their birth country and end up in a family in which one, or none, of the parents are genetically their parent.
On Monday 18 May, the lawsuit by adoptee from Sri Lanka, Dilani Butink was aired whereby she is suing the adoption organization / permit provider Stichting Kind en Future and the Dutch State. Her case shall hold both parties liable for her fraudulent adoption. This is because the Dutch state and adoption organisations and / or licensing holders, have known about the fraudulent practices and trafficking of children from the sending countries for many years. Nevertheless, thousands of children have been legally adopted (and without agreement) from their motherland to the Netherlands after discovering the trafficking. Yet we are still focusing on putting the wish for a child first.
Currently, the Dutch government is working on adjusting the law for surrogacy. Under its guise and around the wild growth of baby farms, the surrogate and child need to be provided protection from surrogacy abroad, but Ukraine does not offer this. It is pretty weird because the cause of this law ie., creating children in a “non-natural” way affects this child’s right to exist. Whoever reads this bill soon sees that the child’s rights and safety of the mother is not sufficiently protected and / or respected. The reason for this law is that we still have international adoption and conception of children through a donor surrogate mother and it is not a fairy tale or an altruistic thought.
Thinking about what my adoptive parents used to say when asked if I was grateful to them for my new life, namely they answered that I didn’t have to be thankful. This is because they wanted a child so badly and were so selfish, they let me come from abroad.
In most cases, the wish for a child is not a wish to make a child part of your life but a biologically driven desire to reproduce or to have a child of your own. If it were really only about the child, the thousands of forgotten children who live in children’s homes would be collected by childless couples. That we live in a world where the wish of having our “own made” child is exalted above the child’s wishes and health, ensures the financially driven market continues to function that dominates the adoption, donor and surrogacy world.
To realize this wish for a child at all costs, ways are being used that cannot be done without medical or legal surgery. Overseas mothers are helped to give up their child instead of breaking taboos or helping the mother raise the child herself, or leaving the legal family ties intact, which is best for the child. The influence of distance (legal parenting to be elevated above genetic parenting) on a human life is still compartmentalised, denied and ignored, with all the consequences.
Despite all the stories of adult adoptees and adult donor children about the influence of distance and a (partly) hidden past or the low performance rates of composite families, the wish for a child remains elevated above the child’s wishes.
In 2020, we are apparently still not aware that these actions not only relieve wishful parents of the unbearable fate of a childless existence, but also dismiss them from their responsibility to carry their own destiny. At the same time, we ensure that these children are burdened unsolicited, with an unbearable fate. Namely, a life with a hidden and a made identity. I don’t want to say that a childless couple has no right to a child in their lives but there are other ways to let a child be part of their lives without giving a mother and child an unbearable fate.
Adoptees often don’t know who they are, when they were born, what their age or birth name is, which family systems they originated from or what their operative story is. They are raised with the idea that they belong to a different family from which they originated genetically. However, this legal disinheritance does not cut the adopted from his original family system (that is impossible) but they have to discover in their adult lives that the foundation on which their lives was built is not the right one. Donor children are looking for the father and find out that they have dozens of (half) sisters and brothers or that they are twins but come from different donor fathers. Both times, it’s a question of demand for a child and making it available.
Many adopted people come to the discovery at some point in their lives that they live with an unbearable fate, they live in a surreal story that they missed the essence of but experience their emotions in their bodies. This also makes you hear adoptees often say they feel like they have to survive instead of thriving.
I hope that the legal trial of Sri Lankan adoptee Dilani Butink will contribute to an increasing awareness and cessation of child trafficking in any way and that we leave fate and responsibility where it belongs. As a Korean adoptee once said, “Do you prefer to die of hunger, or death from sadness?” .. a sentence that I still regularly observe during group meetings with adoptees.
I am aware that not being able to have children is an unbearable fate while at the same time I notice and work daily with the effects of the consequences of distance and adoption. And this is also unbearable for many, unfortunately we adoptees and donor children cannot put away our fate and the responsibilities we have received and this is a burden that we must bear unwanted as a life sentence.
I also hope that the legal trial will contribute to getting assistance. In 2020, governments still do not take full responsibility for looking away from these forms of child trafficking in intercountry adoption and its consequences. In the end, in my opinion, the question remains: do you dare to take responsibility and carry the fate you received? It is a choice to live without “homemade” children or you charge another person with the fate to live without his or her original identity, family and culture.
Please let’s learn from history and not use children as enlightenment of fate but carry our own destiny.
I’m an intercountry adoptee born during the Vietnam War in the early 70s, adopted prior to the war ending, to a white Australian family who had their own biological children. My childhood adoption experience was one where I never really understood that I was impacted by being adopted – I absorbed the mantra of the era that I would just “assimilate and fit in” with my new country and family. I spent a lot of energy trying to do just that, but as I reached my teens, I started to become aware that things weren’t quite the same for me as for my Australian peers. I seemed to struggle more in relationships, I definitely felt alone all my life even amongst a so-called “loving adoptive family”. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I became acutely aware of how much I had absorbed the racism towards my own ethnicity, my Asianness. It took me a decade to explore how being adopted impacted me and I grew through this journey because of the many other adoptees who I met online and face to face in the community I built up. It was the isolation of my childhood that drove me to create this community, that is now one of the largest intercountry adoptee networks around the world that includes adoptees of any birth country and it is this community, that enabled me to grow, learn and find my voice. Today, this network is one of the largest online communities that encourages adult intercountry adoptees to speak out at government level (nationally and internationally) and seek involvement with policy discussions.
Why be involved in policy discussions? And what is so important about being involved? Let’s first clarify what is meant by policy. Referring to Wikipedia’s content on “policy”, we consider it to be: a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes; a statement of intent that assists in decision making; different to rules or law where policy guides actions towards the desired outcome whereas law compels or prohibits behaviours; should include looking at the alternatives and choosing among them on the basis of the impact they will have; and is about trying to maximise the intended effects while aiming to minimise the unintended effects.
When it comes to intercountry adoption and how it is conducted in each birth and adoptive country, we all know that regardless of being a signatory of The Hague Convention or the Childs Rights Convention, laws and policies vary from one country to another because of the ways in which intercountry adoption is understood and implemented, both in theory and in practice.
At the heart of all this, WE are the children who grow up to become adults and it is us whom intercountry adoption is all about. In theory, intercountry adoption exists because it supposedly provides for us due to our vulnerable situations in which we are not able, for whatever reason, to be looked after by our first parents. Many of us are the recipients of past and current intercountry adoption policies or a lack thereof, and in ICAV we talk openly about the known pitfalls and issues that being intercountry adopted creates. Many of our birth countries view adoption as a once off transaction that involves legally handing us over to our new forever families and countries. However, we know from our lived experience, that adoption is not a once-off transaction — it is a psychological journey that lasts our lifetime – for which we are forever impacted, for good, bad, and every other shade of experience in between.
At ICAV, we speak openly about the many complexities of intercountry adoption that impact us. For instance, our right to original identity is ignored because most adoptive countries issue us with a new “as if born to” birth certificate upon adoption. Most countries also completely sever our legal right to our family of origin through the use of plenary adoption (as compared to simple adoption which would maintain kin connections). Most of us have very limited to no access to our adoption paperwork which once provided (until DNA technology) our only ability to find our first families and our origins. Our paperwork can vary from being outright falsified to containing some elements of truth but in too many cases, it’s modified to make us seem more marketable for prospective families, hiding our truths including fundamentally important medical information and history. For those adoptees who ended up in intercountry adoption via illegal or illicit means, there is a lifetime of injustice that we are expected to live with, with little to no supports. For those who end up in an adoptive family that isn’t a good match, we end up suffering further layers of trauma. Too often people and governments forget, that our foundation is relinquishment / in utero trauma from being separated from our biological mother.
In ICAV, we encourage our members and leaders to seek out ways in which adoptees can be heard at government level where policy is created that constructs the future of our lives. We believe it’s important for government to understand the ways in which policy impacts our lives. Without this understanding, how can policy be in our “best interests”? How can adults who have never lived our experience possibly know what is best for us? Having adoptee voices involved in policy means inviting us to the table, really listening to our points of view, incorporating what we say into policy, and recognising we are the experts of our own experience.
The fundamental premise of intercountry adoption is to give a vulnerable child a “family” and “country” to belong with. Why attempt to do good for vulnerable people if you aren’t going to listen to how effective or not the policy and practice is? Governments can only truly understand the real impacts (positive and negative) of their policies by listening to those whom it involves. In intercountry adoption, this is the adoptee, first families, and adoptive families, not the adoption agencies, the lawyers, nor any other intermediary. Without listening to our voices, governments run the risk of continuing to make the same mistakes they’ve made from the beginning.
One of the worst mistakes that has been made in modern intercountry adoption since it’s beginnings in the 1950s and 60s (beginning with the Greek, German and South Korean adoptees), is to not do enough to curb the monetary incentives in intercountry adoption that allow intermediaries to take advantage of the lack of, or to bypass, policies and laws allowing them to facilitate and participate in illegal and illicit practices. We have generation upon generation of impacted adoptees who’s adoptions were illicit or outright illegal. They have nowhere to turn and certainly have very little justice. Today governments around the world today should be concerned at the growing momentum of groups of first families and adult intercountry adoptees who have already sought legal pathways to take actions for the failures of the past.
For example, Chilean mothers of loss are working together with Chilean Adoptees Worldwide (CAW) and have demanded an investigation into their adoptions from the 70s and 80s. The investigation in Chile has found that a large number of the children who left Chile during that era were not voluntarily relinquished for adoption and they are seeking justice.
Similarly, Guatemalan adoptees have banded together from around the world and are demanding an investigation by the Guatemalan and Belgium governments. A most recent well known legal case is of a biological father who won at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and sentenced the State of Guatemala for irregular adoption and use of illegal procedures. View video here .
Another example is Brazilian adoptee Patrick Noordoven who became the first in the Netherlands to win a legal case for his Right to Original Identity. With this win, the Dutch Ministry of Justice is now investigating the role of the Dutch Government in illegal adoptions from Brazil, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indonesia! See article here.
When governments fail to respond responsibly for their roles or for the roles individual facilitators played, in historic adoptions, it leaves those impacted no other choice but to find legal pathways to seek justice. We now have over 70 years of modern intercountry adoption around the world with our adoptee numbers in the hundreds of thousands from many different birth countries. Asia is by far the the largest sending continent of children (Peter Selman, HCCH Statistics). Adoptees en-masse have reached maturity where they question their identity, how they came to be raised in another country often with parents of dissimilar race, and to think critically of why they have been sent away from their countries of birth. Our adoptee movement is growing and gaining momentum. ICAV often speaks about the lack of an international body to hold governments accountable for their roles played in facilitating or turning a blind eye to the historic illegal and illicit practices.
Could there could be another pathway? If governments would be willing to listen to those impacted – to learn from the lessons of the past and ensure we don’t continue to repeat the same mistakes?
Part of the ICAV Vision is: A world where existing intercountry adoptees are not isolated or ignored, but supported by community, government, organisations and family throughout their entire adoption journey.
This can only be achieved if those in power in government value and engage us. When our voices are ignored, government acts contrary to their goal of acting in our “best interests”, instead they set up adoptive, first families and adoptees for failure at worst, or more preventable trauma at minimum.
Another of the largest areas of policy failure in intercountry adoption around the world for any government, is the lack of freely funded, equitable, lifelong comprehensive post adoption supports that are trauma and resilience informed, with inclusion in service delivery from those who know the journey best – adoptees, adoptive and first families.
Anyone who has lived intercountry adoption knows intimately that our journey is one of multiple losses that exhibits as trauma and must be supported throughout our life. By inviting adoptees, first families, and adoptive families to share the lessons learnt from lived experience, government will better ensure they decrease the risks of unintended consequences and become more responsive in their policy making.
Inviting us to participate, listening to us with genuine openness and respect, hearing our experiences and heeding our lessons learnt — this is how governments can strengthen their outcomes and become more innovative and balanced. It is not agencies or intermediaries that government should be engaging and listening to the most, it is adoptees, first and adoptive families! I hope to see the day when we will be equally represented and invited to be involved in government policy and legislative forums for intercountry adoption!
This article was initially written in response to a request for a Korean publication but was subsequently unpublished. The request asked me to write about the importance of including the voices of adoptees in policy forums.
To clarify, for those who are reading the misinformation spread about me personally and ICAV’s position since June this year, with regards to a stance on UNCRC and Hague Convention on ICA:-
As stated to the entity spreading the misinformation, as the Founder of ICAV, I have always supported the UNCRC and it’s position with regards to intercountry adoption. I have tried to openly educate adoptees and the adopted community about it. I have continually encouraged people to understand the Hague Convention and it’s pitfalls in intercountry adoption. I have pointed out for US based intercountry adoptees, it’s harder to fight for what the UNCRC represents because their adopted country hasn’t even been a signatory and therefore not legally bound – so their first and foremost guidance on intercountry adoption is the Hague Convention on ICA. Of course, it would be awesome if the US were ever to become a signatory to UNCRC and why this isn’t the case? I’m sure is another essay in itself and I am no expert on that!
Personally, I believe the Hague & UNCRC fails to protect us intercountry adoptees for fundamental key reasons:
1. We are never checked up on (protected) for more than the minimum timeframe (sometimes specified by our birth country) once the adoption transaction occurs. The post placement report is provided by the adoptive parents but no followup is ever done by the adoptee themselves at an age where they can give a true account at a mature age. Intercountry adoption cannot be argued to be a child protection measure as compared to foster care, permanent care or any other alternative form of care where the child is still within the State’s control and care. No receiving country even gathers statistics on how our adoptions turn out.
2. We have NO rights – legally or economically – for any representation or help if our adoption turns out to be a failure (either from abusive families, deportation, lack of citizenship, falsification of papers, and being rehomed), or if we are lost or stolen for intercountry adoption. We are left to the whims of whichever country has taken us in, whether they be merciful or not. What message is given by the world’s largest receiving country who actively allows the deportation of adoptees back and treats them as “less than” citizens. Not to mention birth countries who receive the deported adoptee back AND continues to send more of it’s children after this occurs.The Hague and UNCRC both remain toothless tigers for there exists no entity or process to investigate any questionable actions by signatories.
3. Money is still unregulated and involved in our adoptions. Personally, I believe most intercountry adoptions as they are conducted today, cannot be said to be ethical while money is still involved and uncapped. While money is the driving force behind most baby scammers, agencies or lawyers involved in both countries, one cannot guarantee a market will not follow. Too much evidence exists showing that families in our birth countries are tricked or coerced to relinquish, or that the birth country fails to provide social welfare to support single mothers/families who are struggling or have conceived a child with a disability.
I also don’t believe “special needs” intercountry adoption is any more ethical than non-special needs children – because we should be encouraging our sending countries to develop the supports necessary to help the less abled child grow up in their own country. Just because one is born with “additional needs” doesn’t mean it is a ticket to being “shipped out” and stripped of one’s rights to origin and family. Material well being is only one factor in life and definitely 1st worlds can offer more to a special needs child than less developed countries. Not sure why the 1st world economies are still adopting their children out via intercountry adoption then?! But why couldn’t this help be in the form of flying the child out and providing the medical services necessary but without having to “adopt” the child. Keep the child with their family of origin, assist them with medical and special needs; help their societies understand that additional needs people can have just as much to offer society as any abled bodied person. I personally have a special needs son myself and I would hate to consider him being intercountry adopted out just because he was born with this extra need because I didn’t have the means or services to support him or us as a family!
I don’t believe immediately obliterating all types and forms of adoption (domestic and intercountry) is the answer either. Simple adoption as practiced in France remains a form of adoption that allows a child to retain their identity. Clearly every country in the world struggles with what to do with their most vulnerable children and families! If there was one simple answer other than adoption, foster care, and alternative care models, countries would all be doing it by now. One cannot deny that some children now adults, wished for and are glad to be given a safer more permanent family to support them. We cannot deny that some biological families of intercountry adoptees might still choose intercountry adoption even if presented with other choices. We cannot fix the underlying belief systems in other cultures overnight that creates the shame for why some biological parents choose to give up their children. Perhaps we’ve gotten to this state of being because of the breakdown in families, villages and communities. Our society remains so fragmented and isolated as individuals. There is little place to turn for people who are struggling to exist.
I aim for respectful discussion from stakeholders in all arenas on the topic. I especially aim to help us hear of the real impacts of adoption from adoptive families, adoptees and biological families, hoping that current adoption as practised today may one day be removed and replaced with something better. Perhaps we also need to change the word so the old associations with the pitfalls of adoption as it has been practiced domestically and internationally are removed? Whatever the answer may be, it needs to be one where children first and foremost have a right to be with their original family; secondly, where if for complex reasons a child has to be removed from their family, then we are empowering birth countries to develop as many welfare and social support systems as possible to keep children in their home countries with kin; and as worse case scenario, if we have to be adopted to another country or within our country, that any form of giving us to another family that’s not kin, allows us to retain our birth identity if we wish, and doesn’t annul our identities without our consent.
With future generations of adoptees growing up and speaking out and as we start to hear the experiences of our biological families, these inputs might change again how we think of intercountry adoption. As it is, one cannot ignore the huge pitfalls of intercountry adoption. Turning a blind eye is not going to fix the problems. Loudly proclaiming all adoption should be eliminated won’t fix the fundamental underlying complex issues either. Somewhere in the middle is where I search for the answers because I don’t proclaim to have THE answer to such complex problems.
I believe we need to critically look at what we’ve done in the past 60+ years of modern intercountry adoption and at least learn the lessons offered. This is why I choose to build relationships and work with various organisations (government and non government) around the world.
So, in case you have questions as to what my personal position is, or what ICAV is about, please feel free to message me. I like to be open and transparent and I know that some want to do damage to the work and reputation of ICAV, which has been around now for almost 20 years. I stand true to who I am and what I do. I try and make it better somehow for other intercountry adoptees who are already adopted and I speak out against how adoption is currently practiced, to prevent the same historical problems being perpetuated for future vulnerable children who need care.
Note: I also believe adoptees and adoptee groups are entitled to their own opinions. If they differ to mine, I have no issue with this. Adoption is such a personal experience and everyone has their own unique journey.
Intercountry adoption is often portrayed by adoption agencies using words like “forever family” to attract couples wanting to adopt, assuming a child in need is matched into a family, as if born to. One assumes the adopted child’s place in that family becomes permanent, right?
Wrong! Intercountry adoption does NOT equate to permanency. The reality we see today goes against everything that adoption is meant to be about.
Here are some images from the United States (US) Department website (they changed it sometime after this post):
If we google the definition of adoption, Wikipedia tells us:
Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting of another, usually a child, from that person’s biological or legal parent or parents, and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from the biological parent or parents.
Unlike guardianship or other systems designed for the care of the young, adoption is intended to effect a permanent change in status and as such requires societal recognition, either through legal or religious sanction.
Today’s practice in the US of actively deporting adult intercountry adoptees back to their home country because they are not guaranteed citizenship (i.e., permanency), portrays a different message to the definition of adoption. Why should we take note of how the US are treating their intercountry adoptees? Because the US is the largest receiving country in the world for intercountry adoption.
How can citizenship not be automatically given? How is this “ethical” or “transparent”? Why aren’t intercountry adoptions, dating from the 1950s to early 1980s in the US, considered enough to provide permanency to the adoptee as a citizen in their adoptive country?