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World News

Swedish Investigator Says South Korea Key to Her Adoption Investigation

Seoul, South Korea — A Swedish legal expert investigating the country’s international adoption practices said on Tuesday she was trying to determine whether Swedish authorities were aware of the children’s falsified origins as they approved the adoption of thousands of children. South Koreans.

Anna Singer spoke to The Associated Press during a week-long trip to South Korea, where she plans to meet with government officials and a Seoul-based agency that handles adoptions in Sweden to gather details of how South Korea procured and documented children for overseas adoptions. .

Many South Korean adoptees accuse their agencies of fabricating documents to expedite foreign adoptions, such as falsely registering them as abandoned orphans despite having easily identifiable parents, which also makes their origins difficult to trace.

Most South Korean adoptees were sent abroad in the 1970s and 1980s, when Seoul was ruled by a succession of military governments that saw adoptions as a way to deepen ties with the democratic West while reducing the number of mouths to feed.

“Our main focus is Swedish organizations and Swedish actors – what did they do and what did they know? But to fully understand, we also need to know how (the adoptions were) organized in the countries of origin,” said Singer, a law professor at Uppsala University who was appointed by the Swedish government to lead the study. survey in 2021.

She said such findings would be key to determining whether Sweden had effective safeguards or monitoring measures in place to ensure that South Korean adoptees were not wrongfully removed from their biological parents.

Singer’s investigation aims to identify irregularities in the way Swedish government agencies, municipalities and adoption organizations handled international adoptions from around 80 countries, including whether they knew the children’s backgrounds were made in the countries of origin.

A number of European countries have started to investigate how they conduct international adoptions, amid growing concerns that children are being unfairly removed from their birth families.

While investigations have been sparked by more recent adoptions in South America and other parts of Asia, another focus has been the thousands of children adopted from South Korea during the adoption boom in the 1970s-80s, which created the largest diaspora of adoptees in the world.

Hundreds of Korean adoptees from Europe, the United States and Australia are calling on South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding their adoptions, which they say were based on documents that falsified or obscured their origins.

The commission has accepted dozens of the nearly 400 applications filed in 2022 and is expected to take on more cases in the coming months, opening what will likely be the most significant investigation into foreign adoptions from South Korea to date. .

South Korea has sent about 200,000 children to the West for adoption over the past six decades, more than half of them to the United States. Along with France and Denmark, Sweden was a major European destination for South Korean children, adopting nearly 10,000 of them since. the 1960s.

Former adoption agents and experts say most Western adoption agencies probably knew their South Korean partners were manipulating documents to send more children faster. The awareness was perhaps most evident with the European agencies which, unlike the US agencies which mainly searched for babies, also accepted older children and apparently understood that many of them had parents who were married but were going through problems finances or a divorce, even if they would be described as orphans in the documents.

The government of former military strongman Park Chung-hee temporarily halted South Korean adoptions from Sweden, Denmark and Norway in the 1970s, after rival North Korean embassies in those countries accused Seoul of to sell their babies. However, South Korea quickly resumed adoptions in response to what diplomatic documents seen by the AP describe as “strong demands” and repeated “pressure” from the government. When asked if international adoptions over the past few decades have turned into a process of finding children for Western families, rather than finding families for children, Singer replied, “Yeah, probably. ” The Swedish investigation follows similar investigations by Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands.

France, which has also launched an investigation into its adoptions, recently withdrew its approval for the Rayon de Soleil de l’Enfant Etranger. The Paris-based adoption agency places children from multiple countries, including South Korea, through a decades-long partnership with Seoul-based Holt Children’s Services. The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs told the AP that the decision, which RDSEE vows to challenge, was based on unspecified accusations about its practices that prevented the agency from fulfilling its mission. The ministry did not say whether the complaints included those raised by Korean adoptees. An investigation is also planned in Norway, and lawmakers during a February visit to South Korea met with truth commission officials in Seoul to discuss the potential sharing of investigative records.

Singer said she has no immediate plans to directly investigate the cases of the 21 Swedish adoptees who submitted claims to South Korea’s truth commission, but is actively communicating with groups. of Korean adoptees in Sweden while trying to establish details of systemic issues surrounding South Korean adoptions.

Singer’s team has so far interviewed more than 40 adoptees since the investigation began in February 2022, including those from South Korea, Chile, Brazil and Colombia, who it says expressed similar complaints about lack of access to records.

“They’re not there, they’ve been burned, they’ve been (soaked), they’re gone,” Singer said. “I mean, there are thousands of different explanations for why they can’t access the original files.”

ABC News

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