By Kim Da-ye
A “multicultural” couple ― Korean wife and American husband ― living in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, learned the hard way that couples like them are effectively blocked from adopting a baby.
In August 2012, the couple decided to adopt. They soon found they faced an uphill struggle and nearly gave up. Three major adoption agencies they contacted said they had no idea how they could arrange an adoption for a Korean-foreigner couple under the revised Adoption Law.
“We checked with Holt but they told me they didn’t know how they could help,” the wife remembered during a recent interview with The Korea Times. Holt refers to Holt Children’s Services, the country’s largest adoption agency.
The husband and wife decided to wait until things become clearer ― but even now little has happened. In the meantime, they came across a plea posted on the portal site Naver. A 20-year-old girl was asking someone to adopt her one-month-old daughter because she had no money to feed and raise her.
When the couple met their future daughter, they felt compelled to adopt the baby. The wife registered her as her own biological daughter, without knowing it was illegal.
“The only thing we thought was save the baby and fast,” the wife said.
“The parents and baby couldn’t afford to eat. The baby was so skinny that you could count the ribs in her chest.”
She continued, ““The parents didn’t have money to buy diapers so the baby had running sores all over her body.
“We didn’t know we were violating the law; we were just saving a life.”
After a year, however, someone reported to the police that the couple had kidnapped the baby girl. After the wife was questioned, the case was passed onto prosecutors. She thought tough punishment was waiting for them.
The Korea Times asked for a photo but the couple declined in order to protect the privacy of her daughter. The couple is still going through legal procedures to adopt the baby.
Like the couple, other multiracial families find it nearly impossible to have agencies arrange an adoption for them. With the revised law requiring a family court to approve adoptions, prospective parents have to work with agencies to bring their cases to the court.
Adoption agencies do not know how to handle adoptions for interracial families. Not only have they rarely handled such cases, they have not been given clear guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
When The Korea Times contacted the ministry and Seoul Family Court, they both gave different answers.
Two articles of the Adoption Law deal with adoptions by foreigners living in Korea. Article 10 deals with qualifications for adoptive parents. It says, “When an adoptive parent is not Korean, he or she needs to qualify under his or her country’s law.” Article 18 is specifically about adoption by foreigners living in Korea, and list conditions they need to meet.
A judge at the Seoul Family Court said that an adoption by a Korean-foreigner couple is covered by Article 18.
An official from the welfare ministry initially said that adoptions by multiracial families should be handled according to the same article. She later confirmed that Korean-foreign couples will be treated nearly the same as Koreans, but will have to hand in additional documents required under Article 10.
However, Holt and other adoption-related agencies that interpret the law at the working level remain confused.
As a result, in reality, it is more difficult for multiracial families living in Korea to adopt Korean children than for foreigners living abroad who fall under clear guidelines.
While no adoption agencies helped the Korean-American couple, they were lucky to have met a prosecutor who understood their situation.
Kim Sung-won, the prosecutor at Uijeongbu District Public Prosecutors’ Office, took on the investigation and realized that the couple has raised the baby healthy and well. The prosecution dropped the case against the couple, and is helping them legally adopt the baby.
The prosecutors’ office, in fact, contacted a couple of major adoption agencies, which only told them that they did not know how to handle such a case.
“The government is proactively encouraging adoptions, but they couldn’t adopt because they were a multiracial family. Because one of the parents was American, adoption agencies told them adoption was impossible,” Kim said.
“I read in the news that a Swedish couple adopted a Korean baby easily. In the case of this Korean-American couple, one parent is Korean and both live in Korea, so I couldn’t understand that adoption agencies were so passive in dealing with it. The couple wouldn’t have done it (adopting from the Internet) if they were helped.”
Kim also contacted the biological father of the baby on his military service who signed documents for the couple’s adoption. When he saw the baby in good shape, he wept and thanked the adoptive parents.
In order to adopt their daughter legally, the couple has hired a lawyer and filed a petition to the court. The process will involve a re-registration of the daughter’s birth.
Having learned how to handle an adoption by themselves, the couple ― both in their early 30s ― now plan to adopt a second child. The wife said that they will go through the same process as that for Koreans and that the husband will have to prepare additional documents from the U.S. Embassy.
“There are many different cases of adoptions as there are many variables in our lives. Adoption agencies shouldn’t just follow set procedures but proactively study different circumstances. The welfare ministry will also have to actively support adoption agencies,” the wife said.