The Seoul Family Court Ruled in Favor of a Korean Adoptee in a Case That Might Set a Precedent for Thousands of Adoptees Worldwide
The hopes of many Korean adoptees searching for their own biological parents went up after the positive verdict of Kara Bos’ case.
Kara Bos, 38, is a Korean-born adoptee who has spent many years searching for her biological mother. After facing hurdle after hurdle, Bos, in a first-of-its-kind paternity suit, finally experienced a major victory on Friday, when a Korean court ruled in her favor.
In this paternity suit, the Seoul Family court ruled to officially recognize Bos as the daughter of her biological father, 85 years old. This ruling sheds light on the legality of acknowledging many adoptees’ rights to their roots. It sets a precedent for an entire generation of adoptees from Korea, many of which have endlessly — some fruitlessly — labored in the search for their biological parents.
Tamara Strickley is a Korean adoptee based in the US who considers herself one of the first wave of transnational Korean adoptions that occurred in the 1960s. Despite the obstacles, she admits that there will always be the desire to find one’s roots.
According to Strickley, despite being adopted into good families and being presented with great opportunities that would not be available to them otherwise, most adoptees still have a deep desire to know where they came from and who are their ancestors. They want to know their mother and father, whether they have brothers and sisters, and why they were given up. Strickley adds that these are great missing pieces in their lives and asserts that adoptees should not have to go through a lot of trouble to find answers to these questions.
Bos’ story is not unique. She is only one of the estimated 200,000 Korean children adopted overseas at the beginning of transnational adoptions, which happened as an aftermath of the Korean War. In 1983, 2-year old Kara, then named Kang Mee Sook, was found abandoned in a market parking lot in Goesan. In 1984, 10 months after she was found, she flew to the United States to join her new family.
Bos became an American citizen following her adoption in Michigan, and she now lives in Amsterdam with her family. While raising her own daughter, Bos came to realize and consider how much pain her own mother must have felt when he abandoned her as a baby. This only strengthened Bos’ resolve to find her roots.
With a renewed sense of motivation, Bos started visiting South Korea. There, she looked through archives and even distributed leaflets in the neighborhood where she was abandoned as a child. She also underwent a DNA test, which matched her with remaining family members. Out of this test, one man was ultimately determined to be her biological father.
Claiming that she was not family, three women, believed to be Bos’ half-sisters, prevented her from meeting her father. According to Bos, she was literally on her knees at the door, begging to see and speak to her father, but her desperation was in vain. 36 years after she was abandoned, Bos filed a paternity suit on November 18 last year as a last attempt to meet her father.
By ruling in favor of Bos and officially recognizing her as the daughter of her biological father, the Seoul Family Court prohibits the half-sisters from barring her future visits. In addition, this ruling could even entitle Bos to an inheritance.
Bos asserts that she has always intended to search for her mother, and her father is the only point of connection she has established. Even though her father is not obligated to meet her, Bos claims that the lawsuit was worth it. Aside from winning the lawsuit, it also highlighted the pain and desperation many Korean adoptees feel in searching for their roots.
David Smolin is a Samford University law professor and director of the Center for Children, Law and Ethics. According to Smolin, this ruling is a significant breakthrough that could potentially set a precedent in upholding adoptees’ rights to know their origins.
In some countries, including some states in the US, the parent-child relationship of adoptees is not officially recognized regardless of DNA evidence. This is because adoption presumes the “severance of the prior familial relationships.” However, some legal systems recognize that the child has both sets of familial relationships.
Smolin adds that, in his perspective, the legal recognition of the parent-child relationship in Bos’ case is a positive step that does away with the pretense that there is no relationship between the adoptee and the adoptee’s original family.
For many adoptees, the search for their roots is a journey that is never easy, but more and more adults are returning to their birth countries to find answers to their questions.
In recent years, online groups for Korean adoptees have arisen in the United States. In these groups, adoptees are able to share their experiences and also help each other in their search for their biological families. By posting what little information they know about their adoption, which usually includes their case number, given name, birthday, and sometimes a photograph, adoptees help each other by giving leads and suggestions to help them on their journey.
But the search for their roots is not as easy as it sounds. Social stigma, privacy laws, as well as poorly documented or even falsified adoption papers, prove to be major hurdles.
Amy Barrett Carr is a Korean adoptee who resides in Washington state. Similar to Bos, she was either lost or abandoned and was later found in the Yuga-myeon area of Daegu in May 1971. Because she was not speaking then, her adoption agency assigned Carr a birthday, which is January 8, 1969, as well as a name, Oh Mee Sook. Without any actual knowledge of her real name and birthdate, her search for her biological parents proved difficult.
Carr perceives Bos’ lawsuit as bold and courageous. She also adds that because of the strict privacy laws in Korea, there are only very few other options available to adoptees who wish to seek their parents.
Carr says that whatever each adoptee should strive to be able to do what they need to do to complete their story. Now 51, she muses that she does not have a lot of time left to look for her birth parents, so she is doing as much as she can to do active searching. Since 2017, Carr has been going on trips to South Korea twice a year, doing whatever she can do to make a breakthrough in her search for her origins.
In her birth city, Daegu, in an attempt to aid in her search, community members helped Carr by posting large banners of her photograph as a toddler. Carr also mentions that she has tried posting information online as well as forensic hypnosis. Just booking her next flight to Korea in October, she plans to give back to the community in Daegu by distributing food for the elderly and, at the same time, talk to each one and try to look for information about her case.
DNA paternity testing, which has immensely helped in aiding Bos’ case, is a modern intervention not available until recently. Organizations like 325Kamra, which was founded in 2015 in California, use mass DNA testing as a genealogical search tool in an attempt to reunite separated Korean families. They distribute DNA kits worldwide and aim to rebuild adoptees’ family trees.
From an adoptee perspective, Carr says that most people would be on board with DNA testing. However, the relatively new process is still difficult to broach in Korea. In fact, for many adoptees, conversations about DNA with Korean relatives must be approached with a lot of caution. Still, despite living overseas for over four decades, the opportunity to go back to go back to Korea, has been a healing experience for her.
Carr states that there were things about Korea that she could remember, even when she was only 2 and a half when she was abandoned. She may not have distinct memories, but she remembered sounds. She added that it instantly felt like home when she rode the trains in Daegu and felt very comforted by the bustling sounds around the markets. She believes that these things form part of her memory, and simply being in the country where she was found made her feel at peace.
She imagines that Bos would have felt the same way, too.
Carr thinks that many adoptees like her also have thoughts about remembering things correctly, and if you cannot ask anyone to confirm these memories, then all you have left are longing questions.
Simone Eun Mi, an adoptee rights activist, hopes that the positive ruling of Bos’ case would spark a debate about restorative adoptee justice. She adds that governments and countries should acknowledge that they have failed to protect the rights of the vulnerable parties involved in the adoption industry, which are the children they sent out of the country.
But despite Bos’ success, which has lent hope to many adoptees, Carr still thinks Korea has a long way to go in aiding the generation it gave away. According to Carr, it is sad that they are not able to truly embrace the children they sent away and truly help them in finding their familial ties. She adds that until Korea does that, they will keep seeing adoptees willing to go to great lengths to find their roots.
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