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South Korea: International Adoption Rates Fall

(Nov. 29, 2011) While the number of intercountry adoptions throughout the world sharply declined last year, the number of children adopted from South Korea remained the same. As a result, South Korea regained its position as the number one country of origin for intercountry adoptions in the United States. (Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, FY 2011 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption November 2011 (Nov. 2011).) As was stated in a recent news report, “[t]he number of foreign children adopted by Americans fell by 15 percent last year, reaching the lowest level since 1994 due largely to sharp cutbacks by China and Ethiopia, sources of most adoptees in recent years.” (Foreign Adoptions by Americans Decline Again, to Lowest Level Since 1994, WASH. POST (Nov. 16, 2011).)

The Korean government has tried to decrease the number of children being adopted by foreigners through encouraging an increase in in-country adoptions. The government would like to see a reversal of the country's role as “a major exporter of babies.” (Korea Still Sends Hundreds of Babies Abroad for Adoption, THE CHOSUNILBO (Nov. 21, 2011).) In the opinion of some analysts, to decrease the number of children available for adoption, support for single mothers should be increased. “Nearly 90 percent of children who are adopted in Korea are children from single mothers.” (Id.)

A special adoption law that is applicable to adoptions of children who do not have parents or who are separated from their parents was wholly amended in August 2011 (Special Law on Adoption Promotion and Procedure (Act No. 11007, Aug. 4, 2011)). The new law will be effective in August 2012. Many intercountry adoptions have been based on the current version of this law. Under the new law, children may be adopted by overseas parents only if no adoptive family can be found within South Korea. The new law also better protects the rights of single mothers and adoptees. Adoptees will gain greater access to their birth records (id. art. 36). Pregnant women will not be forced to make a decision on possible adoption of their children before their births and will have a seven-day period to deliberate on whether to keep or relinquish their children after delivery (id. art. 13, ¶ 1).

For the safety and protection of children involved in international adoptions, the Korean government is preparing to join the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and recently convened a meeting of experts on the Convention. (Press Release, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Expert Discussion on the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption Held (Nov. 18, 2011); Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (May 29, 1993), HCCH [Hague Conference on Private International Law] website.)