1980s & 90s

Adoption hits its zenith in terms of number of children adopted

  • Number of children being adopted dramatically increases 
  • Chun Doo Hwan, another military dictator who was President 1980-1988, was a big proponent of adoption as a way to build ties with the West.
  • Single mothers were the fastest growing group of Birth or First Mothers. It is estimated that 2 out of 3 adoptees were children of single mothers who tended to be in their 20s and 30s and educated (unlike how people in the West think of single mothers being in their teens). In Korea, if social welfare and social acceptance were greater, they might have been able to keep their babies because they were older and educated.
  • South Korea’s expansion of social welfare neglected women and single mothers had to rely on adoption-agency run “maternity homes.” The first of these homes were started and funded by Christian organizations and more than half were run by the 3 major adoption agencies (Holt, Social Welfare Society, and Eastern Social Welfare Society). The women staying in these homes were encouraged to relinquish their children for adoption and, by the mid-2000s, 70-95% of the women did so.
  • It’s estimated foreign adoptions were bringing in $15-$20 million per year.
  • Then, the Summer Olympics were held in Seoul. Korea was criticized by the West and by North Korea  for the number adoptions.
  • After peaking at 8,837 adoptions in 1985, the number of adoptions in 1988 was 6,463. Then, in 1989, it was 4,191. The numbers continued to decrease in the 1990s.

1990s: Adoption numbers decline and KADs begin to return to Korea in greater numbers

  • The number of children placed overseas continued to decline in the 1990s until the IMF financial crisis.
  • 1997 IMF financial crisis hits South Korea.  This financial crisis resulted in massive layoffs and, from 1997-1999, an increase of over 4% in the unemployment rate.  Plans to reduce international adoption were stymied as more families came under financial stress.
  • By 1998, 90% of children adopted overseas were relinquished by unwed mothers. In 2007, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare published statistics saying that, out of 100 pregnancies of unwed mothers, 96 were aborted, and 4 were born. Of the 4 births, 3 were relinquished for adoption and 1 was raised by the mother. Single mothers who express a desire to keep their babies are often not supported by their families and were encouraged to place the child for adoption
  • Subsidies to adoptive Korean parents was much higher than subsidies to single moms who chose to keep their babies.
  • Research and discussion on the father’s responsibility is lacking, blame and responsibility continued to be focused on the mothers. Per a study by the Korean government in 2012, 83% of single mothers never received child support payments and only 4.6% of them filed lawsuits. Of the 77.3% who won their case said that they never received any payments despite the court order.
  • Interesting fact:
    • In October 1998, President Kim Dae Jung, 1998-2003, held an event at the Blue House, which is the executive office and residence of the Korean head of state, for 29 Korean adoptees.  He issues a heartfelt apology at this event.
  • In the late 1990s, more adult KADs began returning to Korea to search for their families, teach English, participate in “motherland tours”, study Korean, and attend conferences for KADs.
  • It is estimated that, since the early 2000s, about 3,000-5,000 adult adoptees return annually to Korea for visits (short of long-term) or to live there.  The Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link or GOA’L estimates that approximately 500 adult KADs live in Korea (as reflected by participation with GOA’L programs) though this is just a rough approximation since not all KADs residing in Korea are involved with GOA’L.
  • Some factors that facilitated the return to Korea include:
    • President Kim Young Sam’s Globalization policies from 1995 for Overseas Koreans aimed to build a network of global Koreans through a state-sponsored project to draw Koreans living abroad, mainly in Western, developed nations.
    • F-4 Visa facilitated “return, resettlement and livelihoods” of those returning.
    • 1999 GOA’L lobbied to include adoptees in the Overseas Koreans Act, granting visa status with flexibility and freedom (E-2 Visas for foreigners, employee-sponsored).
    • 2010 Right to dual citizenship granted to adoptees; ability to reclaim Korean nationality AND maintain adoptive nationality.
    • Demand for native english speaking teachers with college degrees increased with “Globalization” policies emphasis on English skills, allowing adult adoptees to return to Korea through employment.
    • Language programs at Korean universities: through government subsidies, universities began to offer adoptees scholarships to study Korean.