Many adoptees are adults now, and we have a voice that can no longer be ignored.Jin Vilsgaard, Contributor of The "Unknown" Culture Club: Korean Adoptees, Then and Now
Korean Adoptees, Then and Now
I was seven months old, according to my adoption file, when I was sent to Copenhagen, Denmark, in March 1973. My Danish family would tell me the popular myth about me being brought by the stork instead of an actual airplane. Denmark is a relatively small country with much emphasis on being a Dane. This is expressed through the language, and anyone who does not speak Danish fluently or speaks it with an accent has been doomed an outsider. In that way, it is a very close-minded country with little to no room for any diversity.
I was adopted into a typical Christian working family, but before I could remember, my adopters divorced, and they both remarried. As a result, I have half and step-siblings, but I am the only one adopted. Like many adoptive families, we didn’t talk about adoption. My adoptive mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was a teenager and died eighteen years ago, and due to my adoptive father’s choice, I haven’t seen him in the last fifteen years.
Throughout my entire life, I have experienced a lot of racism, both micro-aggressions and direct racism, but I didn’t fully understand the impact before I was an adult and started to inform myself. Discrimination is often not directed at me but is evident when communicated through the community. I have been sent to live with people who do not understand the way I feel. The population does not recognize structural racism or often racism at all. They see it as single episodes, similar to how adoption trafficking is regarded. They perceive the scandals, such as in India, Ethiopia, and Korea, to be single episodes and not a structural problem.
Finding spaces and other Korean adoptees to discuss racism which has really empowered me. For example, like within the adoption-arena, I learned that the intercountry adoption system is racist in itself initiated by white missionaries who wanted to save brown children from their brown families and communities in the effort to proselytize us, assimilate us and make us as white (and acceptable) as possible. While growing up, I did not have anyone to talk with about racism (or adoption). Instead, I was led to believe that I was white. When I was a child, my adoptive father took me to a Danish doctor who had been in the Korean War to confirm that I might be half white. The doctor confirmed it could be possible since I was taller than average and had freckles. This was supposed to be a good thing. I thought they wanted me to be white, so I bragged about the possibility in my teenage years. It turns out my adoptive father and the doctor were wrong. I took a 23andMe DNA test, and I’m not white at all. Now I’m embar’;rassed about that assumption and proud to be Korean.
At the age of twenty-one, I became a mother, and it was the biggest experience of my life. Perhaps due to being adopted, I needed someone who could connect with me genetically, and this connection has had a huge influence on me. I try to teach my daughter about the unequal power structure in society that made my adoption happen, and shapes our lives in Denmark. My daughter, now an adult, is very interested and understands the need for adopted people to fight for our rights. This is a tremendous support to me.
I received great help in understanding the system from investigator Arun Dohle of Against Child Trafficking (ACT), an organization that protects the rights of families. He has shown great patience to brief me, and it was not easy for me to understand all the details, and I’m still learning. ACT is the only child rights organization that stood for the Ethiopian mothers and the adopted children using huge efforts, costs, and media attention. With barely any funding at all, they represent the parents of eight children who were stolen and adopted to Denmark and brought four of the mothers to the Danish embassy in Ethiopia, seeking help.
ACT, initially led by Civil Servant Roelie Post, understands and highlights the conflict between the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Hague Adoption Convention. Ms. Post was assigned by the EU to protect Romania’s efforts to reform their child protection system from 1999-2005, and her work is detailed in a book called For Export Only: The Untold Story of the Romanian ‘Orphans.’ The UNCRC was written in an effort to prevent children from becoming a commercial commodity; the convention regulates and supports child rights, which considers the movement of children to be the very last resort after all other alternatives have been exhausted. The Hague Adoption Convention, however, has created a legalized child trafficking system.
Initially, I was skeptical and then again shocked. How could I have been so blind? How could all those I had trusted to protect my best interests be so ignorant? I could not believe that my picture of adoption as a win-win situation to be false, but there way no way I could reject the evidence so transparently put forth to me.
It made me so upset, sad, and angry that I threw myself into the adoption debate when Against Child Trafficking was the only one who would fight for the Ethiopian families who had lost their children to adoption. I offered my help and have since been active at Against Child Trafficking by helping where I can.
I do not understand how the authorities can ignore and continue to violate the UNCRC in Intercountry Adoptions and why this enormous issue is not addressed. How can the families and children who are the victims of illegal adoption and child trafficking be so ignored?
At this point, I am hugely concerned to learn that Roelie Post, who the EU asked to defend the UNCRC in Romania, has been referred to establish an unsupported and nonfunded private organization and given no resources to combat violations of children’s rights within Intercountry Adoptions.
This Civil Servant is very experienced and dedicated as documented in Romania, but why is she no longer allowed to be involved with the protection of the fundamental rights of children? Why has Roelie Post had to pay essentially all Against Child Trafficking’s operational costs from her own pocket? How can this be legitimized?
The adoption industry, however, is given massive financial support, prestige as experts, consultants, and advisers, including adoption facilitators, UNICEF, and organizations that ignore the articles within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and instead implement the Hague Adoption Convention in Romania. A regulated market in children is not in accordance with the UNCRC and unworthy to dignified nations such as those within the European Union.
I am appalled to learn that the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption is defended instead of the UNCRC, which is EU acquis (the accumulated legislation, legal acts, and court decisions constituting the body of European Union law). After the Mercy Mercy documentary, huge suspicions and scandals regarding baby harvesters, illegal adoptions, and even kidnapping by the orphanage Enat Alem came to light. Against Child Trafficking stepped up to help the Ethiopian families who had lost their children to Denmark, and they let me help where I could.
Since the adoption scandals came out in Denmark, the Minister of Social Affairs set up a working group to devise proposals for a revised Danish Adoption Act. There has been widespread criticism of both the form and content of the analysis, which in its design, for example, didn’t ask to take a position on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the massive suspicions of systematic criminal acts in connection with already completed adoptions.
The concerns and input from the groups and organizations of adult adoptees, critical adopters, and first families were ignored, but instead, ISS and UNICEF were appointed as experts, to support access to adoptable children.
The analysis didn’t address the conflict between the Hague Convention and UNCRC, but instead recommends the Hague Convention, without commenting on the huge problems in details. Furthermore, the analysis didn’t investigate the suspicions of the crimes in the adoptions from such nations as Ethiopia and Nigeria.
Thus far, authorities have not taken further reaction to help the families who were victims of illegal adoptions and child trafficking. Even today, ACT and the mothers who did not willingly relinquish their children are still waiting for advice or reaction. This and much more suspicion and criticism have not been illuminated by the Danish authorities. Instead, the Danish government presents a proposal to relax on adoption rules so that future municipalities will find it easier to forcibly adopt children from their parents, because the number of forced adoptions are too low, despite strong criticism and concerns by adopted people of years past. So, now there are forced adoptions in Denmark! Is that in line with the UNCRC? The faulty system has subsequently given rise to my criticism against the adoption lobby, but our questions have been dismissed, and instead, adopters huddle in and cultivate the myth that critical adopted people are mentally ill, accused of having problems with
severe attachment and guilty of ingratitude. Defending their hunt for children has remained the priority. I have subsequently been informed to remain outside the established adoption system— especially in some adoptees groups themselves who have opened Pandora’s Box, after which news of scandals and corruption have filled my daily life. But it was important to understand the scope and level of resources actually being used to preserve and defend the transnational adoption system—including its myths and lies.
The adoptee community in Denmark and also global adopted people have been a tremendous support and help in my struggle to understand, inform, and help adoptees and our first families. As an adopted person and a European citizen, I am deeply concerned about the developments in the area of adoption, both in Denmark, the European Union, and worldwide. I write to express my concern about the massive structural violations of the UNCRC found in the adoption system. I have spent a lot of time on this issue since I became involved as a volunteer in the work of Against Child Trafficking (ACT).
I have had a lot of difficult experiences as an Asian adoptee in Denmark, and I try to cope by being with as many minorities and other adopted people as much as possible. This expansion of horizons that comes from talking to others who have experienced the same has helped me to understand myself much better. The Adoptee community has meant everything to me, and my life has taken a whole new direction because of all the hard work other Adoptee activists do now and before I got my wake-up call. I made my first trip home to South Korea last fall with Global Overseas Adoptees’ Link. It was mind-blowing, and I regret that I didn’t do it before. I’m now planning my next trip to Korea with my daughter, and hopefully as soon as possible.
Many adoptees are adults now, and we have a voice that can no longer be ignored. It would suit the adoptive parents to listen and be good allies.