Sweden halts adoptions from South Korea after claims of falsified papers on origins of children

By Jan M. Olsen, The Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Sweden’s main adoption agency said Wednesday it was halting adoptions from South Korea, following claims of falsified papers on the origins of children adopted from the Asian country.

Swedes have been adopting children from South Korea since the 1950s. On Wednesday, the head of Adoptionscentrum — the only agency in Sweden adopting children from South Korea — said the practice is now ending.

Kerstin Gedung referred to a South Korean law on international adoptions passed earlier this year, which aims to have all future adoptions handled by the state.

“In practice, this means that we are ending international adoptions in South Korea,” she told The Associated Press in an email.

Sweden’s top body for international adoptions — the Family Law and Parental Support Authority under the Swedish Health and Social Affairs Ministry — said the Adoptionscentrum had sent an application asking for the ministry to mediate adoptions from South Korea. A decision is expected in February.

Gedung said her center’s partner in Seoul — Korea Welfare Services or KWS — “will therefore wind down its mediation work in 2024 but will complete the adoptions that are already underway.”

In 1980, private-run Adoptionscentrum took over from the National Board of Health and Welfare, a government body. Between 1970 and 2022, Adoptionscentrum mediated 4,916 adoptions from South Korea, according to its webpage. So far in 2023, the organization has received five Korean children.

The new law in South Korea would also require the state to take over a huge numbers of adoption records by private-run agencies by 2025, which also means a larger force of government workers would be needed to handle birth searches and other requests. There is widespread skepticism whether this would be fully enacted by that time.

Seoul has long said it plans to ratify the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption, but there’s no specific timetable yet. Sweden ratified the convention in 1990. Officials in Seoul now say they are hoping to sign the convention by 2025.

After the end of the Korean War in 1953, Swedish aid workers adopted orphaned war children from South Korea to Sweden.

Most South Korean adoptees were sent overseas during the 1970s and ’80s, when Seoul was ruled by a succession of military governments that saw adoptions as a way to deepen ties with the democratic West while reducing the number of mouths to feed.

South Korea’s government licensed four private-run adoption agencies that actively sought out foreign couples who wanted to adopt and sent around 200,000 children to the West for adoptions. More than half of them were placed in the United States.

Now, hundreds of Korean adoptees from Europe, the U.S. and Australia are demanding South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigate the circumstances surrounding their adoptions.

They claim the adoptions were based fabricated documents to expedite adoptions by foreigners, such as falsely registering them as abandoned orphans when they had relatives who could be easily identified, which also makes their origins difficult to trace. The adoptees claim the documents falsified or obscured their origins and made them difficult to trace.

A number of European countries, including Sweden, have begun investigating how they conducted international adoptions.

“It will take up to two years for South Korea to implement the new law, and at this time, we do not have sufficient information to assess whether we should apply to resume cooperation with South Korea in the future,” Gedung said.

___ Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul contributed to this report.

Jan M. Olsen, The Associated Press

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