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Korea Slowly Closes to Adoption
Over 50 years of placing children internationally comes to an end
August 01,2009 / Pearl S. Buck International
Untitled Document


The South Korean Government has been carefully implementing long-term plans to eventually close international adoption for over 20 years. Starting in 1987, the Korean government established strict quotas limiting the number of children who could be placed internationally, and they have carefully reduced this quota by 3% to 5% each year with the intention of eventually placing zero international adoptions. In 1987 over 8,000 Korean children were placed with adoptive families overseas. By 1997, only 2,057 Korean children were adopted by families overseas. And in 2007, only 939 Korean children were placed for international adoption. At the same time that the Korean government has been gradually reducing the number of foreign adoptions, they have been working hard to increase the acceptance and number of non-relative adoptions domestically. Attitudes are gradually starting to change toward adoption within the country, as more and more Korean families choose to grow their families by adopting children domestically within Korea.

When South Korea eventually closes to international adoption, which will take place around the year 2012, it will have been the longest-running international adoption program in the world. To date, approximately 160,000 Korean adoptees have been placed in 14 Western countries since the first official proxy adoptions took place in 1953 during the hardships present at the end of the Korean War. The largest number of Korean children placed internationally (just over 100,000) have been adopted by families residing in the United States. 

At the beginning, the majority of children placed overseas were mixed race, Amerasian children (their fathers were U.S. servicemen and their mothers were Korean nationals.) The children from these relationships were left in very difficult circumstances, unaccepted by either culture. By 1959, the number of mixed race children being placed overseas for adoption was already starting to decline and the majority of adoptees placed overseas were ethnically Korean. The first official proxy adoptions took place in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. The passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1961 created a formal mechanism for non-relative adoptions to take place internationally. The very first adoptees to come to the USA from Korea are now in their 50s and 60s. These adoptees paved the road for other programs to work with the USA in placing vulnerable children into adoptive homes.

If you are a Korean adoptee or an adoptive family who has chosen to adopt from Korea, there is a long and rich history of which you are a part, and there are other families out there who have experienced some of the joys and challenges that you and your family may have faced.  There are all kinds of organizations and people out there that can offer support for your family.  

Some resources to get your started:

  • Korean Online - a terrific compilation site of Korean culture, history, and much more - with an online Korean-English, English-Korean dictionary!

  • Teen Korea - excellent site on culture and language for teens and others!

  • Korean Information Gate - wonderful portal site for all things Korean

  • Life in Korea : Well organized site depicts a full range of Korean life and activities.

  • Korea Insights : A beautiful site depicting the full range of Korean culture and art.

  • Friends of Korea : Composed of first and second generation Korean Americans, adult Korean born adoptees, and adoptive parents, this organization promotes greater awareness and appreciation of Korean heritage in the US.

  • The Korea Society: Elegantly designed site about Korea. Definitely worth a look.

  • Coalition for Asian-American Children & Families -- NYC-based, definitely worth your time.

  • a.k.a.(also known as) : Begun by adult adopted Koreans, this organization provides an important sense of community for intercountry adoptees and people of mixed-racial and cultural heritage.

In addition, many hertiage tours and culture camps exist for children and adults adopted from Korea.

Contributed by Pearl S. Buck International.

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Readers Comments  (7 Comments)  View All Comments
I'm happy they will be stopping this soon, Korea is rife with baby buying and paying women to get pregnant just to sell the babies to agencies for placement abroad. US parents don't want to admit this but when we see home studies wishing that the same US parents adopt another "accidental" birth from the same birth mother just 9-11 months after the first "accident" happened that just shows that someone is paying this woman to give birth over and over again only to give up the child for money- Anonymous
This makes me happy and sad. Happy that adoption is more accepted domestically in Korea now. Sad for reasons that I can't quite put my finger on.- Anonymous
I hope Korea thinks this out more, we have been told for 24 years korea is adopting,,, yes,,,very limited ,, and only healthy infant girls. No special needs. Very sad to my adult Korean children to hear how their birth country thinks about international adoption. I hope the impression of Korea is tainted for them. Right now they are not to thrilled.- pamela avignone
We are currently adopting our son from South Korea. He is 14 months old and will be home very soon. Korean adoption is open for now and it is a very smooth and simple adoption process!- Benjamin's Mom
Thank you for running this. I would like to know if adoptees should try and procure all records now on their adoption from Korea? Is it going to be difficult to do later on?- Anonymous
I have three children adopted from Korea and feel very blessed to have been able to form my family through international adoption. I think Korea offers a wonderful program and am sad to see that it will be closing to international adoptions.I am also glad at the same time that more Korean families are choosing adoption to add to their families. I am hoping to adopt again from Korea but I guess if that is going to happen, then I better get moving forward with things soon!!- Anonymous
Thanks, nice article. With so many other things regarding adoption in the news, I think Korea closing is just not on people's radar. It is a WONDERFUL country to adopt from.- Anonymous
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