[INTERVIEW] Danish adoptees demand Korean gov't to probe dark past of exporting babies

6 October 2022

Adoptees say their documents are riddled with misinformation, fabrications

By Lee Hyo-jin

Peter Moller, 48, who was adopted to Denmark from South Korea in 1974, reached out to Korean adoption agency Holt International for the first time in 2011 to search for his roots.

Holt initially told the Danish adoptee that he was born in Seoul. But in subsequent letters, the adoption agency said he was actually born in Daejeon. Moller was then told that his biological mother gave birth to him in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province on March 16, 1974, which happened to be the same day she brought him to the adoption agency in Seoul.

"How is this possible?" Moller thought. "What is the possibility that a woman who just gave birth to a child could travel across the country to give away the infant?"

Speculating that his adoption documents could have been falsified, he began digging for the truth. Moller soon found out that he was not alone.

Dozens of Danes who had been adopted from Korea in the 1970s and 1980s were having similar speculations that their documents had been riddled with misinformation and fabrications.

In 2021, these adoptees established the Danish Korean Rights Group (DKRG) to demand that Korean authorities launch formal investigations into corrupt practices by two Seoul-based adoption agencies which sent children to Demark ? Holt and the Korea Social Services (KSS)

"In the beginning, they (adoption agencies) say that you were abandoned and they have no knowledge of a family. But if you keep on pressuring them for more information, they actually have quite detailed information about family, age, occupations, siblings and so on," Moller, an attorney and co-founder of DKRG said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

"For instance, you were told that you were found in the streets and handed over to the police, but suddenly they give you another story that your biological mother was very young and unwed, so she had to give you away." he said. "But every time the information changes, it changes a little bit of your identity."

The KSS has admitted to the fabrication of documents in some cases, he said, showing a letter sent by the agency to a Danish adoptee which stated, "In fact, it (the adoption file) was made up just for the adoption procedures."

After gathering the documents of nearly 300 Danish adoptees, the group recently filed an application to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Seoul to launch an investigation into adoptions which they believe involve fraudulent documents, fraud and child abductions.

According to Moller, the agencies switched some children's identities with those who had died, or were in hospital, so that they could process the adoptions.

The DKRG also urged the Korean government to order Holt and the KSS to give full access to their adoption documents and background information, which the agencies are refusing to disclose fully citing privacy issues.

"We also want to ask their motivation, which we believe is money. International adoption was a billion-dollar industry back then. We know that a lot of money besides the adoption fee had flown to Holt and the KSS," Moller said.

Encouraged by laws promoting inter-country adoptions, private adoption agencies reaped financial benefits by sending thousands of Korean babies to their adoptive families in North American and European countries in the 1970s and 1980s.

Moller also said that many overseas adoptees are reluctant to file official complaints in fear that the adoption agencies may just destroy all the documents.

"That is why we have delivered a letter to the presidential office to take care of this. We've asked them to protect our documents," he said. "And if Holt is offended by this, they are welcome to sue me. I am ready for it."

But if these allegations are proven to be true, the agencies should be punished according to Korean law, he said.

The Denmark-based group also strongly believes the government has played a big part in adoption irregularities, given that all the international adoptions were processed within the legal framework and government system.

"We think that there were indications that the government was trying to solve some of the social problems such as poverty with international adoption. And the authorities had hired the agencies to do the 'dirty work' while it willingly stamped falsified passports and travel documents," he said.

Obtaining passports was a complicated process back in the 1970s, but the papers came in so easily, Moller viewed, speculating that the documents could have been prefabricated.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has four months to decide whether to accept the DKRG's application, and in the meantime, the group will collect more documents from overseas adoptees, not limited to Danish but also from other countries.

"We are now in touch with people from the United States, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Belgium and Germany, who share in common that we were adopted through Holt and KSS," said Moller.

"But a big problem for us is the language barrier. We are in different countries and come from different cultures today, so it's difficult to collect documents in one language. And of course, communicating with the Korean authorities is also quite challenging because most overseas adoptees don't speak Korean," he said.

Holt International and the KSS did not respond to repeated requests by The Korea Times to comment on allegations raised against them by the DKRG.