Adoptee Activism

Past and current adoptee and Korean mother activist groups
  • Background: South Korea’s first adoption law, passed in 1961, was titled “The Orphan Adoption Special Law” before it was changed to the “Special Adoption Law” in 1976. In 1995, the law was renamed “the Special Act Relating to the Promotion and Procedure of Adoption” to reflect the government’s new policy encouraging domestic adoption (in response to the national shame Koreans felt following the criticism from popular international media outlets that Korea’s primary export commodity was its babies)
  • SAL’s significance for adoptees: Due to the SAL, adoptees’ access to their files at their South Korean adoption agencies has changed, but certain agencies appear to interpret this differently; for example, one adoptee recently went to ESWS for her file but was not allowed to make any copies, whereas another adoptee emailed Holt about receiving her file and was immediately emailed a copy. Social workers at certain adoption agencies contend that, according to the SAL, birth parents’ personal information must be protected above all else, so adoptees cannot review their files (which are considered to be privately owned by the agencies)
  • SAL’s significance for unwed mothers: Maternity homes/shelters for unwed mothers are no longer run by adoption agencies; mothers have a seven-day period after giving birth to their children to decide whether or not to relinquish their child for adoption
  • SAL activism today:
    • 2012: A counter-movement to “re-revise” the SAL, led by adoption agencies, some adoptive parents, and also some adoptees who argue that the revised SAL encourages child abandonment and infanticide; see: baby box, media attention, Pastor Lee Jong-rak, etc.
    • Korean Adoption Services, or KAS, was established in 2014 and seen as a tangible victory for adoptee activists; it was the first government agency to have “adoption” in its name and was created to aid transnational adoptees with birth family search
    • As of July 16, 2019, KAS has been dissolved and absorbed by the newly established NCRC (National Center for the Rights of Children)

In closing….

We hope that this information gives an overview of the history and how complex it is and that this information might serve as a launching point for people to do self study, or form their own study groups. It’s through the process of doing a deeper dive into the study that the healing has the potential to happen.

Please see the resources and references page if you’re interested in taking a deeper dive into the history of Korea and Korean adoption.