The Korea Herald

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Europe winds down adoptions from South Korea

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : Jan. 18, 2024 - 17:50

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Children's' event in Norway (Yonhap) Children's' event in Norway (Yonhap)

Northern European countries are scaling back their long-standing overseas adoption programs following reports of illegal practices, a move that will likely impact South Korea, one of the leading countries in sending babies abroad for adoption.

Norway is contemplating a temporary suspension of all international adoptions after local news outlet Verdens Gang exposed illegalities and corruption in the process of bringing in foreign-born babies to be adopted by Norwegian families. The primary countries sending babies to Norway include South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Colombia.

The news report claimed that an adoptee from Korea discovered, from a hidden letter, that she was taken away from her Korean biological parents 50 years ago and was sent away for adoption. In a similar case, another adoptee found out that she was secretly sent to Norway by her grandmother without the consent of a biological father.

On Tuesday, one of Norway's top policy bodies recommended a suspension in intercountry adoptions while authorities investigate the alleged document fabrication, legal violations, profiteering, and abduction involved in the process.

“Adoptions must be safe, sound and in the best interest of the child,” said Hege Nilssen, head of the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs. “Our assessment is that the risk of illegalities is real.”

On the same day, Denmark also decided to gradually reduce overseas adoption after allegations surfaced last year of illegal financial transactions in the process of adopting children from Madagascar.

“This was a heavy decision to take for DIA’s board, but we see no alternative,” Anne Friis, vice chair of the board at DIA, said in the statement. “International adoption can no longer be operated by an NGO like us under the current conditions in Denmark,” she said.

As a result, it appears that Denmark's adoption of Korean children will also be halted. The number of Korean babies adopted by Danish families peaked in the 1970s and has since dwindled to single digits. In 2022, just five Korean children were adopted by Danish parents.

Sweden was the first country to announce that it would no longer accept adoption applications from South Korea.

The decision, made by Sweden’s main adoption center Adoptionscentrum, came in November last year following allegations of fabricating paperwork in the process of adopting Korean babies in the past.

Sweden has been adopting children from South Korea since the 1950s. Between 1970 and 2023, Adoptionscentrum mediated 4,921 adoptions from South Korea.

Since 1953, South Korea has sent nearly 170,000 babies overseas for adoption, primarily to the United States and Europe. In 2022, 375 adopted individuals requested a state investigation, alleging that their adoption papers were fabricated between 1960 and 1990, involving 11 countries, including Denmark, the United States and Sweden.