My daughter wants to find her maternal grandmother, “Why didn’t Korea help single mothers?” [Finding the truth about 372 overseas adoptees]

17 September 2023

[Finding the truth about 372 international adoptees] I am looking for my biological mother with my daughter.

Before heading to a small alley on a mountain hill in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul in the hot summer of July, we were enjoying the cool subway ride. My 10 year old daughter was strangely quiet. I thought her daughter was getting tired of the heat, but then she turned to me and she said, She said, "She's looking for ladies who look like her mom." After a brief pause, she continues. “And someone who looks like me. I hope I can meet my (maternal) grandmother someday.”

According to my adoption file, I was found wrapped in a blanket on the street in front of an institution called ‘Hwirakwon’ in Seongbuk-dong. I don't know what kind of organization Hwirakwon is, and it seems like it doesn't exist anymore. Someone found me and handed me over to the Seongbukam Police Station on May 6, 1976. I was about three weeks old. Now I'm back with my family and my daughter who wants to know more about adoption in South Korea and her potential grandmother. There was so little information in the adoption file that we could only find the name of the police station. So we did our best to wander around the old neighborhood of Seongbuk-dong.

When I saw my daughter's face as soon as she was born, it was like meeting my first family. Before that, I barely thought about Korea. Growing up in a white community, I experienced everyday racism, but I rarely thought about my background. Why should you think? My life began in January 1977 with a one-way ticket to Denmark. The fact that I never met my biological family after giving birth to my daughter shocked me. At 35 years old, I knew nothing about Korea or my background. Now that I have become a mother myself, I realize that I have less and less time to find my mother.

I quickly realized that Holt, the adoption agency, would not be able to help, so I found an online forum for international adoptees. In this forum I slowly started to realize that something was strange. Until then, I had said that overseas adoption in Korea was an inevitable humanitarian effort born of misfortune and poverty after the Korean War. But I had a question. Why didn't other countries send 200,000 babies overseas during the crisis, and why were I and the majority of adopted children sent overseas even during a period of significant economic development in South Korea after the end of the Korean War?

At these forums for international adoptees, I learned about the dark side of Korean overseas adoption. I learned that our records had been manipulated to simplify the adoption process, and that the adoption agency and the Korean government had greatly benefited economically from international adoption. I was very shocked when I learned that the history of adoption in Korea also includes instances of children being taken away or otherwise separated without parental consent. But what continues to haunt me is learning how our Korean mothers were humiliated, abused, and forced into adoption by a society that despises single mothers. When she discreetly told her daughter this, she cried out in pain: "It's so unfair and unnecessary! Why should I lose my child just because I'm not married? Why doesn't Korea help mothers keep their children?"

As my family and I walk through the old slums of Seongbuk-dong, I imagine my mother. I've done it many times, but now we can point to a specific house and imagine that I was born in that house with the blue roof on the hill. I imagine my mother was one of those young women who broke her daughter's heart. She became estranged from her family when she gave birth to me out of wedlock, and after struggling to care for her baby alone, she decided that neither she nor Korean society could protect me. I know from my medical records that I had thrush (oral candidiasis) when I was found as a baby. This disease usually occurs during breastfeeding through a mother who has inflammation of the breasts. This is very painful for the mother. As I imagine my own mother in excruciating pain every time she breastfeeds, alone with her crying baby, I can feel the despair that she had to give up in the end, despite her best efforts. Today I cling to the knowledge that I had thrush. To me, that information is the only proof that her mother actually existed.

Danish Korea Rights Group ( DKRG) asked the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (Truth and Reconciliation Committee) last year to investigate allegations of human rights violations in international adoption, I told my daughter that many adoptees around the world were telling the Korean government the truth about overseas adoption. He said he asked them to shed light and free our mothers' lives from the shadows of dishonor, misunderstanding and oppression. I also told her daughter that I wasn't sure if she would ever be able to meet her grandmother. Our search continues, but time is running out. I'm sure if she meets her mother. My daughter will let me know that it wasn't her fault that she lost her baby.

In September 2022, 283 overseas adoptees submitted an investigation request to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to determine whether human rights were violated at the time of adoption. The number increased to 372 as additional applications were submitted twice on November 15th and December 9th. They requested an investigation into whether human rights were violated in the adoption process of overseas adoptees adopted from Korea to Denmark and around the world during the authoritarian period from the 1970s to the early 1990s and whether there was any intervention by the government in that process. Fortunately, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission announced on December 8 that it had decided to open an investigation into 'human rights violations during the overseas adoption process', and on June 8, it announced the opening of an investigation into an additional 237 people. This is the first government-level investigation decision in 68 years since Korea began overseas adoption. <Pressian> plans to continue publishing articles written by overseas adoptees who have requested an investigation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Editor's note