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KAS Supports Adoptees And Their Familiesfor Their Rights And Interests to be protected

History of Adoption in Korea

Chapter 1. The Korean War and the Beginning of intercountry adoption

The Establishment of Institutions
  • January 1954 Founded 'Child Placement Service’
  • 1955 Organized ‘Catholic Relief Service’,‘The Seventh-Day Adventist Church Education Association'
  • October 1956 Founded ‘Holt Adoption Program’
  • 1957 Founded ‘International Social Services’
Annual No. of Adoptee
  • 1954 Over 10 (President Rhee Syngman‘s order to deal with emigration procedures in a short period)
  • 1955 59
  • 1956 617
  • 1957 486 (abolition of the refugee protection law in the U.S.)
Distribution of Adoptees
  • 1958~1960 2,388 mixed-race children out of 2,700 intercountry adoptees
  • 1955~1961 4,155 out of 4,185 mixed-race children were adopted to the U.S.
  • ⇒ Most intercountry adoptions in the 1950s were mixed-race children adopted to the U.S.
The Outbreak of the Korean War, The Establishment of Child Placement Service.

As a national tragedy, the Korean War, which broke out on June 25th, 1950 and ended with a truce in July 1953, produced tens of thousands of war orphans including mixed-race children.

No Legal Standards for Intercountry Adoption

Then, most children were sent to the U.S., with only a small minority sent to the UK or some Scandinavian countries. But it was merely a pursuit of measures for mixed-race children, and there were no regulations on foreigners' adoption of Korean children, causing difficulties in intercountry adoption of war orphans. Intercountry adoption in the 1950s was influenced not by domestic laws but by the enactment and revision of laws related to adoption in the U.S., such as the Displaced Persons Act and other laws related to orphans and immigration. In its early days, intercountry adoption started based on the article of 'fostering', which stipulated that 'children in welfare facilities can be placed in volunteering foster homes in accordance with certain procedures', in the 4th chapter of the regulation announced by the order of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs in 1952.
Therefore, the government proposed the Act on Special Cases Concerning Orphan Adoption on July 23rd, 1955,and laid the bill as many as 6 times from 1957 to 1961. However, the session of the National Assembly was not maintained, thereby leaving it as a pending issue.

The Beginning of Intercountry Adoption

The adoption procedures of 12 adoptees who left Korea with Holt in 1955 were carried out through Child Placement Service (Holt Adoption Program began its own intercountry adoption procedures since June 1956, but Child Placement Service took charge before then).
Harry Holt's departure with the children was recorded and aired on many TV and radio channels in the U.S.

Chapter 2. Child Protection Efforts in the Era of Military Dictatorship

Trend of Domestic and Intercountry Adoption
  • · Domestic adoption was relatively booming while intercountry adoption was stagnant → The government enacted and revised relevant laws while introducing a variety of polices, as a way to promote domestic adoption
  • · 4,206 children out of 11,841 adoptees were domestic adoptees in the previous 10 years, totalling 36.63%
  • · The number of domestic adoption ended up exceeding that of intercountry adoption by the mid-1960s
Major Events
  • February 1961 Prepared legal grounds for intercountry adoption and enacted Act on Special Cases Concerning Orphan Adoption
  • 1961 Built accommodations for 300 orphans in Nokbeon-dong, Seoul (Holt Children's Services)
  • 1962 Conducted a campaign, Foster One Orphan per Family
  • 1964 Established Korea Social Service
  • February 1965 Launched a campaign, Share your love, as a way to mobilize financial support from the public
  • April 1965 Holt Adoption Program started a foster home project
  • 1967 International Social Services handed over its duties to Child Placement Service
Development of Foster Care Projects

Park Chung-hee, Chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction who seized power in a military coup d'etat in 1961, emphasized that Korean children must be brought up at home rather than in an orphanage, and developed a domestic adoption project and a long-term foster care project.
Child Placement Service changed its Korean name in August 1961 (but kept its English name), launching a campaign, Foster One Orphan per Family, as an independent effort of Korea's child welfare projects, which in fact, had depended heavily on international aids.
The effort, however, failed to produce satisfactory results because of its inherent vulnerabilities, such as an over emotional project development, and lack of a professional service system and lack of foster parents’ awareness.
Due to these reasons, the long-term foster care project of Child Placement Service ended as a failure after a number of trials and errors. However, it created the momentum to revive the significance of foster care, later serving as a catalyst that would vitalize a temporary foster care project before adoption.
Furthermore, the government enacted and revised adoption-related laws and policies that gave priority to domestic adoption, which in turn discouraged intercountry adoption. As a result, by the mid-1960s, the number of domestic adoption ended up exceeding intercountry adoptions.

The Establishment of Korea Social Service

Baek Geun-chil, the second president of Child Placement Service, established Korea Social Service in 1964 and carried out consulting service, adoption service, and sponsorship projects for mixed-race children, war orphans, children from low-income families, children from broken families, and phsically- or mentally-challenged children in Korea.
Korea Social Service developed a variety of services for child welfare by systematizing child welfare projects to provide healthy homes for children who did not have homes or could not be fostered by their parents.

The Enactment of Act on Special Cases Concerning Orphan Adoption

The Act on Special Cases Concerning Orphan Adoption was enacted in 1961 to protect adopted orphans and children with special needs. The Act provided legal standards for intercountry adoption of children with special needs and the purpose (Article 1) was 'to seek enhancement of welfare for orphans by providing simple measures for foreigners to adopt Korean orphans.'
Then, there were many adverse effects coming from private adoptions, due to lack of organizations or policies responsible for intercountry adoption. In 1966, the government made it a rule to enable only authorized organizations to carry out intercountry adoptions.
The government also introduced a number of laws related to child welfare, such as Law Concerning the Duties of Guardians for Orphans and Child Welfare Law.

※ International Social Services (ISS)
The International Social Services is an international organization with its headquarters located in Geneva, Switzerland, and it was authorized by the Korean government in 1957 to carry out activities related to intercountry adoption.
There are three branches worldwide, and the Korean branch withdrew from Korea in 1967 due to operational problems, handing over all relevant duties to Child Placement Service.
The ISS mostly took care of intercountry adoption, settlement of refugees, international marriages, family counseling, adoption problems, mediation and solutions.

Chapter 3. A Leap into Professional Adoption Projects and Child Services

Trend of Domestic and Intercountry Adoption

Intercountry adoption began to increase again from 1968, taking up 75.92% of adoption in the 1970s Problems arose due to unfeasible domestic adoption policies
Intercountry adoption became diversified into Europe as well as the U.S.

Major Events
  • 1970 Temporarily suspend adoption to Northern European countries
  • 1972 Korea a Christian Crusade(Eastern Social Welfare Society) began adoption services
  • 1976 Established Eastern Child Welfare Society, abolished Act on Special Cases Concerning Orphan Adoption, and enacted
  • Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption
  • Planned to suspend intercountry adoption from 1985
  • Developed a 5-year plan of adoption projects
  • Implemented an intercountry adoption quota system
Current Status of Adoption Agencies
  • <According to Year of Establishment>
  • Social Welfare Society
  • 1954 Established Child Placement Service
  • 1961 Changed its Korean name, but kept its English name
  • 1971 Changed its name into Social Welfare Society
  • Holt Children's Services
  • 1956 Established Holt Adoption Program
  • 1972 Changed its name into Holt Children's Services
  • Korea Social Service
  • 1964 Established Korea Social Service
  • Eastern Social Welfare Society
  • 1971 Established a Christian Crusade in Korea
  • 1972 Started adoption services
  • 1976 Established Eastern Child Welfare Society
  • 1997 Changed its name into Eastern Social Welfare Society
The Establishment of Eastern Social Welfare Society

Kim Deuk-hwang, the first president of Eastern Social Welfare Society, established a Christian Crusade in Korea in July 1971, and began adoption services with authorization of the government in 1972. He established Eastern Child Welfare Society in 1976, forming the current structure of Social Welfare Society, Holt Children's Services, Korea Social Service, and Eastern Child Welfare Society to start vigorous adoption services.

An increase in intercounty adoption

In the 1970s to 1980s when people were confident that the economy had grown to a certain level and that they had overcame almost all the wounds from war, the number of intercounty adoptions rather rapidly increased.
7,275 children were adopted overseas in the 1960s, which soared by 6.6 times to 48,247 in the 1970s and by 8.9 times to 65,321 in the 1980s. As the success of the economic development plan that had started from 1962 achieved economic growth, aid from foreign private organizations gradually decreased.
As a result, it was insufficient to cover the child welfare budget, which had depended on overseas aids, with domestic support. The government presented an outline for child welfare reform in 1972 and reformed child welfare facilities accordingly. Therefore, the number of child welfare facilities, such as childcare centers, dropped in the mid-1970s, leading to a greater number of children with special needs in intercountry adoption

< No. of Child Welfare Facilities from 1970 to 1980 >
No. of Child Welfare Facilities table
Division/Year Infant Facilities Childcare Facilities Vocational Guidance Facilities Total
1970 74 430 15 519
1971 66 400 20 486
1972 54 376 26 456
1973 52 333 25 410
1974 42 323 25 390
1975 37 313 24 374
1976 36 307 22 365
1977 40 293 19 352
1978 38 271 17 326
1979 35 264 17 316
1980 34 253 18 305
The Enactment of Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption

As intercountry adoption rapidly increased in the late 1960s, overseas Koreans and diplomats pointed out the problems with the intercountry adoption policy. Domestic opposition also arose regarding intercounty adoption, along with the international criticism from the U.S. and Europe, calling it 'orphan exports.' North Korea used this politically to reinforce false propaganda against South Korea, which led to the temporary suspension of adoption to Northern European countries. This served as a momentum for Korea’s adoption policy to put more emphasis on domestic adoption than intercountry adoption. The government enacted the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption in 1976 to correct the flaws of The Act on Special Cases Concerning Orphan Adoption and simplify the procedures for domestic and intercounty adoption of children accommodated in protective facilities, attempting to encourage domestic adoption rather than intercountry adoption. The government also imposed a duty on each intercounty adoption agency to fulfill a quota of domestic adoptions, and introduced a new system of allocating intercountry adoptions according to the number of domestic adoptions, as a way to encourage domestic adoption. The move was aimed at a complet banning on intercountry adoption by 1985, by increasing domestic adoption 10% annually while reducing intercountry adoption 10%, but to little avail.
In 1985, the government established the 5-year plan of adoption and foster care for children with special needs, aiming to stop intercountry adoption. According to the plan, the government founded adoption and counseling agencies, which would carry out the duties of identifying, enlightening, counseling and encouraging prospective adoptive parents. However, ambiguous regulations on duties and standards of establishment, which adoption agencies must fulfill, and performance-oriented adoption projects, hiring amateurs, resulted in lack of professionalism, which in turn probably reinforced the public’s negative perception on adoption.

Chapter 3. A Leap into Professional Adoption Projects and Child Services

Trend of Domestic and Intercountry Adoption
  • · The number of adopted children fluctuated according to the government's adoption policy, but overall the number reached 91,000 in the 1980s with the annual average of 9,182 adopted domestically and abroad
  • · The number of domestic adoptions was approximately 26,000 (28.86%) and the annual average was 2,650 (`81~`90)
  • · The number of international adoptions was approximately 65,000 (71.14%) and the annual average was 6,532 (`81~`90)
Major Events
  • 1981 Fully opened intercountry adoption to increase emigration and activate people-to-people diplomacy
  • 1989 Established a domestic adoption agency, Holy Family Child Adoption Center
  • Planned to completely stop intercounty adoption by 1996 through the phased reduction project
Opening of Intercountry Adoption, as a way to Increase Emmigration and Activate People-to-People Diplomacy

In the 1980s, the government decided to fully open intercountry adoption to increase emmigration and activate people-to-people diplomacy, withdrawing the quota system and the intercountry adoption suspension plan that had been carried out to stimulate domestic adoption. With the opening of intercounty adoption, the number of children adopted to overseas homes rapidly increased, which led to competition among adoption agencies to secure the sufficient number of prospective adoptive children.
However, not long after the announcement of full opening, the government gave an administrative instruction to refrain from carrying out intercountry adoption around the 1986 Seoul Asian Games and the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, considering international attention to this issue.
These measures by the government did not fully regulate international adoption, but were rather implemented occasionally when they might give a negative perception overseas.

Hosting the Olympic Games and the Change of the Adoption Policy

With the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, many countries around the world started to show interest in Korea. In the meantime, the foreign press focused on the increasing number of children adopted overseas and the continued overseas adoption despite Korea's eye-opening economic growth and the hosting of the Olympic Games. They pointed out that Korea was "the world's top orphan exporter," criticizing that Korean children given up by single mothers made up 60% of foreign children sent to the U.S. in the form of adoption, the number of which exceeded 6,000 a year.
Influenced by the foreign press, the media in Korea started to raise the issue of intercountry adoption, which increased social attention. Accordingly, the government decided to encourage domestic adoption by establishing the Adoption Project Improvement Guideline in June 1989. According to the guideline, the government intended to reduce intercountry adoption every year and eventually ban it with the exception of mixed-race children or disabled children by 1996. But this plan was withdrawn in 1995 due to lack of domestic adoption.

The Establishment of Domestic Adoption Agency, Holy Family Child Adoption Center

Holy Family Child Adoption Center is an agency exclusively for domestic adoption established on May 11th, 1989, after the 24th Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988, as a project of the International Eucharistic Congress with the belief that Korean children must be raised by Korean. While the four previous adoption agencies were launched with the purpose of overseas adoption, this agency has great significance in that it was launched as an exclusive domestic adoption agency.

Chapter 5. The Establishment and Activities of Organizations for Adoptees and Adoptive Parents

Trend of Domestic and Intercountry Adoption
  • · The declining birth rate and social stability reduced the number of children with special needs, and the influence of the national policy to lower overseas adoption led to over 50% reduction of adoptees
  • · The share of domestic adoption continued to grow to 34.6% of all adoptions by the early 1990s, and the adoption of disabled children was around 1% of domestic adoption
  • · The share of disabled children in intercountry adoption increased again in the 1980s, taking up around 40% of children adopted overseas by the 1990s
Major Events
  • 1994 Canceled the policy of complete ban on overseas adoption
  • Implemented Foster Care system
  • 1996 Domestic adoption rose while intercountry adoption naturally fell
  • End of intercounty adoption except disabled children and mixed-race children
  • 1997 Planned to lower intercountry adoption annually, making it harder to get intercountry adoption permission and establishing The Overseas Koreans Foundation
  • 1998 Postponed the attempt to make it harder to get intercounty adoption permission, helping applicants to get intercounty adoption permission more easily, enacting enforcement ordinance and regulations on Act on Special Cases Concerning
  • Adoption Promotion and Procedures, seeking ways to boost adoption of disabled children (after the IMF’s bail-out of the Korean economy), and establishing Global Overseas Adoptees' Link
  • 1999 Established International Korean Adoptee Service (InKAS)
  • Established Global Adoption Information and Post Services
  • Established Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea
The Enactment of Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption Promotion and Procedures

In May 1995, the revised Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption Promotion and Procedures was enacted by correcting the flaws in the Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption. For instance, the revised law was aimed at eliminating obstacles to domestic adoption and making post-adoption services for intercountry adoption compulsory. The government also provided adoptive families with housing loans, medical expenses, educational costs, and living expenses. However, with the tradition of valuing blood ties and the reality of keeping adoption secret, the financial support for adoptive families did not act to vitalize domestic adoption. Consequently, with a new plan to accept intercountry adoption as an alternative for domestic adoption, the policy to stop intercounty adoption was withdrawn in August 1995.

IMF and Adoption

As Korea suffered a financial crisis in 1998 and was put under the supervision of IMF, children with special needs increased by 40% within a year, reaching 9,000 children. Most of them were from not only out-of-wedlock birth by single mothers but also broken homes and dysfunctional families. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the number of children with special needs soared, resulting in a temporary suspension of the intercountry adoption quota system.

The Establishment of Organizations for Adoptees and Adoptive Families

Intercountry adoption that had started since the Korean War sent approximately 150,000 children for adoption (as of 2000, based on the statistics of the Ministry of Health and Welfare) to 14 countries, including the U.S., Europe, Canada and Australia.
Koreans adopted overseas autonomously formed organizations for Korean adoptees in places they grew up with the intention to find their identities as Korean adoptees. There are already more than 20 organizations around the world. Moreover, as Korea began to distinguish itself in the international stage since the 24th Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, the number of visits by Koreans adopted overseas to Korea increased. They come to their homeland to find their identities, roots and families and to learn about Korean culture and language. This led to the emergence of organizations for post-adoption services of intercountry adoption since the late 1990s, such as Global Overseas Adoptees' Link (G.O.A.'L) and International Korean Adoptee

Service (InKAS).

Moreover, with the national awareness of Korea's long history of intercountry adoption as well as the changing public opinion on domestic adoption, Mission to Promote Adoption in Korea was established by domestic adoptive families to promote and enhance domestic adoption and change the public perception on adoption. In July 1999, Adoption Information Center was established to provide integrated and professional post-adoption services for domestic and overseas adoptees.

Chapter 6. The Enactment of National Adoption Day and Improvement of Domestic Adoption Culture

Trend of Domestic and Intercountry Adoption

Promoted adoption of disabled children by increasing support of child-rearing expenses and medical bills for families adopting disabled children
The Minster of Health and Welfare announced at the National Assembly's inspection of state administration as well as in interviews with the press that intercountry adoption will be completely banned in 2010
Introduced a plan to promote domestic adoption first: Intercounty adoption is allowed only if children fail to be adopted within five months after permission of domestic adoption

Major Events
  • 2002 Established non-profit private organization KoRoot
  • 2005 Enacted National Adoption Day
  • Partially revised the enforcement ordinance of Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption Promotion and Procedures
  • 2006 Presented comprehensive countermeasures to promote domestic adoption
  • Established Nest Korea
  • 2009 Ended service of Adoption Information Center
  • Established Korea Adoption Information Services
Domestic Adoption Vitalization Effort 1 - Comprehensive Countermeasures to Promote Domestic Adoption
  • · Background

    The measures to promote domestic adoption (Mar. 30, 2006) had been established before, but the latest measures of Comprehensive Countermeasures to Promote Domestic Adoption included additional plans, such as adoption holiday system, relief of qualifications for adoptive parents, and a plan to promote domestic adoption first

  • · Basic Direction

    Providing family-centered child protection services by promoting domestic adoption
    Enhancing institutional and financial support for adoptive families
    Reinforcing national promotion activities to improve the public perception
    Establishing systems to provide efficient post-adoption services

  • · Main Contents
Institutional Support
  • · Implemented Adoption Holiday System, such as maternity leave, for psychological adjustment of adoptees and adoptive parents from 2007, starting with public workers (agreed by the Ministry of Security and Public Administration)
  • · Adoption agencies implemented a plan to promote domestic adoption first for five months after the child was decided to be adopted (2007)
  • · Established and managed Integrated Management System of Children for Adoption, providing comprehensive information on adoptees for families hoping to adopt
  • · Relieved qualifications for adoption: Single and unmarried people were permitted to adopt, the age gap between adoptive parents and children was narrowed from 50 to 60 years, and the regulation limiting the number of children of adoptive parents (currently no more than five) was scheduled to be eliminated
  • · Promoted a plan to include adoptive families of disabled children in the beneficiaries of special provision of national housing in order to stabilize housing for the families (the Ministry of Construction and Transportation)
Improvement of Adoption Culture
  • · Promoted a plan to improve adoption culture by eliminating prejudice, encouraging open adoption, and promoting adoption
  • · Attracted participation of religious circles and private organizations to promote domestic adoption
Financial Support
  • · Adoption Charge Support (KRW 2 million) was intended to lessen financial burden of adoptive families and improve public awareness on adoption
  • · Nurturing Benefit of Adoptees (KRW 100,000 per child a month) was intended to raise adoptees in a healthy and sound environment
  • · Reinforced support of child-rearing expenses and medical bills for families adopting disabled children
  • · Reinforced support of adoption agencies’ counseling activities
  • · Promoted a plan to support child-care expenses (the Ministry of Gender Equality) and nursery expenses (the Ministry of Education) for adopted children
Reinforcement of Post-Adoption Services
  • · Established a comprehensive support system to find adoptees’ roots
  • · Established Homes for Adoptees, which provides all kinds of information, such as information about Korean culture and jobs, as well as long-term or short-term accommodations, for intercountry adoptees while they stay in Korea
  • · Expanded services for intercountry adoptees, such as Korean language education, Korean culture experiences, and employment counseling services
Domestic Adoption Vitalization Effort 2 – The Enactment of National Adoption Day in 2005

To establish a healthy adoption culture and promote domestic adoption, the Ministry of Health and Welfare designated May 11th as the National Adoption Day, indicating that one family (1) adopts one child (1) in the Family Month of May to become a new healthy family (1+1). The week starting from the National Adoption Day was designated as Adoption Week. The government and local organizations have been carrying out appropriate events, starting in 2006. The government, adoption agencies and organizations are carrying out projects of adoption policy establishment, adoption survey and research, post-adoption management, adoption and family support, and education and promotion of adoption to encourage adoption of children with special needs and enable smooth adjustment of family life after adoption. They are also supporting the emotions of adoptive families by providing adoptive family gatherings, camps and contests, while also promoting adoption through broadcast, newspaper, internet and pamphlets.

Chapter 7. 2011~2013 / Revised Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption and Signed the Hague Adoption Convention

Trend of Domestic and Intercountry Adoption
  • Expanded support of child-rearing expenses and medical bills for disabled children
  • Reinforced support for disabled children through an increase in adoption charge
  • Enforced the revised Special Adoption Act, focusing on the protection of rights and interests of adoptees
  • Signed the Hague Adoption Convention to implement the standard for international children's rights
Major Events
Major Events table
  • Provided amendment bill for the revised Special Adoption Act
  • Increased support for adoptive families of disabled children
  • Held a conference on Hague Adoption Convention
  • Enforced the revised Act on Special Cases Concerning Adoption
  • The Minister of Health and Welfare signed the Hague Adoption Convention
  • Held workshops for people related to adoption
  • Implemented projects to support mothers and children during adoption
  • consideration period
Main Contents of the Revised Special Adoption Act (revised in Aug. 2011, enacted in Aug. 2012)
  • · Implementation of Family Court Approval System : Reinforcing national responsibility and making adoption procedures strict by having the court determine the final completion of adoption
  • · Implementation of Adoption Consideration System of Biological Parents : Providing a week of consideration period for biological parents after the child's birth to preferentially consider the natural family protection for the benefits of the child
  • · Reinforcement of Qualification of Adoptive Parents : Those with criminal records, such as child abuse, family violence, sexual violence or drug addiction(e.g. alcohol), are prohibited from being adoptive parents, and those who will be adoptive parents must attend classes offered by adoption agencies before adoption
  • · Giving the status of Parental Adopted Child: The adoptee approved by the court is given a legal position equal to a biological child by the civil law, reinforcing the legal status of adoptees
  • · System to Promote Domestic Adoption First : Promotion of domestic adoption in order to encourage domestic adoption
  • · Support of Family Search : Guaranteeing the claim of adoption information disclosure for adoptees
    (Procedure) Apply to authorized adoption agency or Korea Adoption Services → Receive agreement of biological parents on disclosure of adoption information → Disclose adoption information
  • · Establishment of Korea Adoption Services : Key organization for promotion of domestic adoption and rendering of post-adoption services
  • · Signed the Hague Adoption Convention
    On May 24th, 2013, the Minister of Health and Welfare signed the Hague Adoption Convention in the Netherlands. The signing ceremony took place in the Netherlands Prime Minister's office (Binnenhof).
  • · It was determined that Korea had secured legal and institutional grounds to join the convention as the adoption system changed fundamentally by extensively revising the Special Adoption Act and the civil law. Thus, to declare the Korean government's commitment to the international society, the signing of the convention was carried out as a major project of the new government