Adoption agency found liable for human rights abuses for first time in S. Korea

Started by Topaz, May 17, 2023, 04:19 PM

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Adoption agency found liable for human rights abuses for first time in S. Korea
Posted on: May.17,2023 17:35 KST Modified on : May.17,2023 17:35 KST

The court's decision marks the first time a court has recognized human rights abuses in transnational adoptions and is likely to spark a wave of similar petitions by adoptees

In a significant ruling, a South Korean court has found an intercountry adoption agency liable for mishandling an adoption, marking the first time that an adoption agency's duty to protect the rights and interests of children up for adoption has been explicated in a Korean court of law.  At the same time, the ruling has been criticized as a "half-verdict" as it did not hold the state jointly accountable for botching transnational adoptions, which it had played a leading role in and encouraged since the era of authoritarian rule in the 1980s.  On Tuesday, Seoul Central District Court's Judge Park Jun-min awarded Adam Crapser 100 million won in damages in his suit filed against the state and Holt Children's Services for mishandling his adoption to the US. The court ruled that Holt had neglected its duty to protect Crapser when he was a 3-year-old being sent abroad for adoption.  Crapser, named Shin Song-hyuk by his Korean mother, was adopted by an American couple but, after facing various tribulations including being rehomed twice, never obtained US citizenship. He was eventually deported to South Korea in 2016, separating him from his children in the US.  The court found two breaches of Holt's duties. At the time of his adoption, Crapser was issued an IR-4 visa. Unlike the IR-3, which establishes that the adoptee is part of the adoptive parent's family prior to adoption, the IR-4 requires an adoption trial in the US for the adoption process to be completed.  An IR-4 visa is usually issued when an adoptive parent adopts a child through an agency without seeing the child in person. This visa grants the child a temporary green card and the adoptive parents temporary custody for two years.  Crapser would have had to go through a separate process to obtain citizenship after his adoption trial in the US. The tribunal found that Holt had a duty to inform Crapser's adoptive parents of the need to seek their son's US citizenship. Yet, the court found, the agency did not perform any guardianship duties after the 3-year-old left for the US. The court also acknowledged that Holt had a duty to confirm that Crapser's citizenship had been properly obtained.  The court did not recognize Holt's duty to check on the child's well-being after the adoption process was finalized. It found that Holt's guardianship duties to the adopted child ended when the adoption was finalized by the conclusion of Crapser's adoption proceedings.  The court also did not recognize the responsibility of the state. "Even if there were some shortcomings in the existing adoption system or in the response of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs [now the Ministry of Health and Welfare], it is difficult to conclude that the officials breached their duty of care to Holt intentionally or by accident," it said.

The court also rejected the argument that the statute of limitations had run out, stating that "the risk of damages became real when Mr. Shin was deported to South Korea, and the statute of limitations began to run from that point."

Crapser was deported in 2016 and filed his lawsuit in 2019.  "It is regrettable that the state's responsibility for leading, managing, planning, and tolerating illegal transnational adoptions was not recognized," said Kim Soo-jung, a lawyer representing Crapser, at a press conference after the ruling was announced. "Regardless of the verdict, we hope that the state will first apologize to Mr. Shin and make every effort to help him return to the place where he grew up and let him live a free life."

The court's decision marks the first time a court has recognized human rights abuses in transnational adoptions and is likely to spark a wave of similar cases.  "The ruling has given hope to many overseas adoptees," said Han Boon-young, an adoptee who was adopted by a Danish family in 1974 and settled in South Korea in 2002, speaking to the Hankyoreh. "Records related to overseas adoptions have only recently been gathered, and this ruling gives us confidence that we can do well [in litigation]."

"I think it's good news for our [overseas adoptees] friends who have been struggling," said lawyer Peter Møller, co-chair of the Danish Korean Rights Group.

The group applied to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission last year to uncover human rights violations in the overseas adoption process.  According to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, as of May 11, out of the 249,959 children adopted domestically and internationally between 1958 and 2022, when data was first collected, 67.4% of the total adoptees were adopted overseas (168,427). Most of these children 163,696 were adopted before 2010.

By Kwon Ji-dam, staff reporter; Kwak Jin-san, staff reporter