We APs of Korean kids have had a tendency sometimes to think that adoption from Korea is above reproach. Korean adoption practices have long been held up as the standard by which other transnational adoptions should be conducted, a fact that has been no small draw to Korea for many prospective adoptive parents. When Third Dad and I were making the decision to adopt, this perception definitely influenced us; I remember the word often used to describe Korean adoption practices back then: sterling.
Sadly, if these articles are based in fact, sterling takes on a whole new meaning. When stories began breaking several years ago that Koreans were paying Americans to adopt their children to make it possible for them to attend U.S. schools, I realized that the potential for corruption in Korean adoption stretches far beyond the agency-facilitated adoptions with which most of us are familiar - and they have plenty of irregularities of their own, too.
The involvement of dollars in adoption makes the line between ethical and unethical practices incredibly fine. The longer I ponder the best way to make adoption ethical, the clearer it is to me that dollars need to be removed from the equation. That, however, is unlikely to happen anytime soon, which makes it that much more important for us to add our voices to those crying foul when abuses like these come to light.
US Schools Here Blind to Adoption Abuse Cases
By Kang Shin-who
The United States Forces Korea (USFK) has turned a blind eye to allegations that U.S. base personnel have adopted Korean children who wish to attend American schools in army bases in exchange for money and other irregularities.
Following a Korea Times report on Dec. 8, the USFK had said it would look into the abuse of adoption by Americans working at military bases here.
Asked whether it plans to investigate the allegations, Dave Palmer, chief of the USFK's public affairs office, said, "We have physically no role in the process over somebody doing an adoption. We don't know if there is anything wrong.
"The adoptions are approved by your nation and our nation. Far above you and me. If the adoptions are approved then they are fit to enter school."
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) has not yet decided whether it will investigate the accusation, saying it doesn't have enough manpower in Korea.
According to some parents and school staff, there have been complaints related to their inability to get "legitimate"' children into Department of Defense (DoD) Dependent Schools due to them being overcrowded with Korean students.
Asked about the number of adopted Korean students, the Seoul American High School, one of the DoD schools, said the information was protected by the Privacy Act, which is a U.S. Federal Law that limits the amount of information the U.S. government can release from official records regarding an individual without their permission.
"Adoption is a very sensitive issue and we do not keep demographic data files on students who have been adopted. Students who meet the registration requirements for admission are not treated differently because of their race, religion, ethnic background or birth status,'" said Robert E. Sennett, principal of Seoul American High School.
According to a broker, a female working at the U.S. camp in Yongsan garrison was willing to adopt a Korean child for 200 million won ($146,000). She recently adopted her nephew to ensure his education at a DoD school. The broker did the documentation work as an agent during that adoption.
The adopted children can obtain a Green Card and then U.S. citizenship, normally in three years. It is already widely known that many Korean parents send their children to the United States for adoption because they can then get an American education cheaper and avoid obligatory military duty in the case of males.
Established in 1946, DoD schools are supposed to provide education for the children of American military and DoD employees stationed overseas. There are a total of eight DoD schools in Korea, across Seoul, Daegu, Osan, Pyongtaek and Jinhae.
Command-sponsored dependents of U.S. military and DoD civilians with orders to Korea have priority for enrollment in the schools, which charge some $20,000 per year in tuition. Command-sponsored dependents and DoD civilians and non-command sponsored dependents of U.S. military personnel attend free of charge.
The Korean government sets aside a large amount of taxpayers' money to maintain U.S. troops here, and this year plans to provide about 760 billion won to the USFK.
* * * * * * *Adoption Abused for Enrollment in Schools at US Military Camp
By Kang Shin-who
An increasing number of Korean parents have their children adopted by Americans working for the U.S. military to enroll them at American schools on army bases, according to parents and school staff.
They say the number of adopted Korean students has recently risen at the Seoul American High School (SAHS), a Department of Defense (DoD) Dependent School at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul.
“Recently, I saw a sharp rise in the number of adopted Korean students coming to this school. Korean people are very clever, so they do whatever is necessary for the education of their children,'' said a 40-year-old mother of two children in the 9th and 10th grades at the school. “If you visit immigration agencies in Itaewon, you can find many Koreans trying to have their children adopted by foreigners for education,''
added the woman, who declined to be named.
The school's students and teachers also admitted to the rise in the number of adopted students.
According to the school, about 670 dependents of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Civilian Personnel assigned to Seoul attend the federal public school. Among them, nearly 30 percent are Asians, mostly Korean.
Asked about the deliberately adopted Koreans who attend the school, Assistant Principal Bernard Hipplewith said, “We have some (adopted Koreans) here. Yes, we have quite a few of them. I don't think we don't have huge problems with them.''
DoD schools were established in 1946 to provide education from kindergarten through grade 12 for the children of American military and Department of Defense (DoD) personnel stationed overseas. Korea has a total of eight DoD schools in Seoul, Daegu, Osan, Pyongtaek and Jinhae.
Some immigration agents in Itaewon work as brokers between Korean parents and Americans.
An immigration agent who has worked in the business since 1974 said many Koreans who have foreign relatives usually have their children adopted by uncles and aunts who hold foreign passports.
“More than 90 percent of my customers wish to send their children to English-speaking schools. I handle three to nine cases per month,'' the agent said. He says he charges some two million won per case as commission.
He said fees parents pay to guardians differ widely. “When not related to the guardian, the fee depends on how much the guardian requests. Usually, you need to pay step by step when you obtain either U.S. residency or citizenship.''
He said it could easily exceed 200 million won ($150,000). He said it generally takes two-and-half years for an adopted child to get a Green Card post-adoption and another six months to obtain U.S. citizenship.
Moreover, the agent said he has witnessed many children, via “fake adoption,'' enter other international schools in the area, with many Korean university professors among his main customers.
Eligible applicants to such schools are categorized into four types; Command-sponsored dependents of U.S. military and DoD civilians with orders to Korea and representatives of federally connected contractors; Dependents whose sponsors are employees of the State Department and other U.S. governmental agencies, the Red Cross, USO, and representatives of federally connected contractors; Non-command sponsored dependents of U.S. military; Dependents of private U.S. citizens (including
retired U.S. military) and citizens of foreign countries.
The schools charge some $20,000 in yearly tuition, but command-sponsored dependents of U.S. military and DoD civilians and non-command sponsored dependents of U.S. military attend free of charge.
An international schoolteacher there hinted many children adopted by Americans are attending elementary and middle schools. Considering other U.S. military schools outside Seoul, the number of such children could easily be much larger.
A Korean staff member at the school said, “You know some irregularities always exist wherever you go.''
The Seoul Central District Court sees such irregularities as possible causes of legal disputes. “Fake adoption for other purposes from Korean parents who are able to look after their children could be legally problematic and there are cases in which courts cancel such adoptions,'' said a judge from a family court in Seoul.
“It could mean the fabrication of documents and abuse of adoption. But we need to take a closer look at cases of international adoption.''
Adoption agencies also expressed concerns. “This kind of fake adoption could only happen in Korea. A child can be a member of a new family via adoption. We need to think about the meaning and values of family and should know how it influences children when they are removed from their original family registry,'' said Kim Eun-hee, a spokeswoman of Holt Children's Services, a non-profit organization that facilitates domestic and international adoptions. “At the same time, Korean courts need to thoroughly scrutinize adoption hopefuls, as in other countries, to prevent abuse of the system.''