As we rang in 2021, hopes were rising due to the vaccine being rolled out, the fact that a new U.S. President would be sworn in, the idea that COVID-19 might become a thing of the past, and the majority of the world just wanting 2020 to end. However, shortly after January 1, 2021, travel and lockdowns around the world became only stricter with the new variants of COVID-19 emerging; all bringing 2021 into question and if it would actually usher in the end of COVID-19 and the unique and extremely difficult challenges we’ve been facing.
2020 for me, as many readers may know, was a tumultuous year with, just to name a few things, the confirmation through DNA with my Korean father, a paternal lawsuit filed and won, and his passing. I have a hard time just calling him “my father,” as I legally have two fathers. However, only one of them (my adoptive father, whom I hate to give that title) truly feels like my father, even though my other father actually created me.
Feeding into that thought process; now imagine mourning this man who created you, without ever intrinsically knowing him. I’ve seen him from afar, and met him up close whilst hidden behind a mask, sunglasses, and a hat. However, I do not know him and now I never will. This man who created me, who knew my mother’s identity, and who abandoned me twice is still someone I have had to mourn. It’s not easy to describe nor for an outsider to understand.
Those around me tried to, and would, comfort me with words such as: “He wasn’t your real father…” or “Just think of your immediate family and be thankful.” The list goes on of inappropriate words meant to be of comfort for someone who has just lost their father.
In reality, for an adoptee, or any child, who has been estranged from their parent, losing them is not something you should or can just forget about or carelessly disregard. This person is still your parent who brought you into this world, and you have the right and even the need to mourn that loss. It may not be the same feeling of loss or grieving you may go through if you knew them your entire lifetime and built good memories with them. Maybe that is what makes the loss even greater, because you don’t have that foundation of good memories, or any memories for that matter, to carry you through the weight of the loss and pain you feel at that moment—it’s just emptiness and a deep sense of despair as you think about and wish for it to have been different. Just as 2020 had started with the hope of being only steps away from knowing whom my mother is and confirming whom my father was, it ended with the hopelessness of my father’s family secret being scattered under a tree in a fancy park in Seoul.
2021 brings lawyers in Kakao messenger chats yet again as inheritance is being negotiated, and with that the hope once again that I can gain the information I seek by leveraging my inheritance rights, and yet another lawsuit. The only way this family will be in any form of contact with me is through a lawyer it seems, so I’m left with no choice but to navigate uncharted territory.
Throughout this continued fight, I’m still a wife, mother of two precious children, and business owner. Even during this pandemic and lockdown where time seems to be at a standstill for many, there still aren’t enough hours in the day for me. My heart is divided as the yearning to find the answers I seek is still so strong, yet to keep myself sane, and for the sake of my family I must focus on life in the now.
It’s a constant battle, as an adoptee, to balance these two important facets of life. Since the trial and media explosion, I’ve been doing my own small part in adoptee advocacy by sharing my story, and also giving advice to adoptees in their search journeys. It’s been rewarding to even help reunite a couple adoptees with their birth families, and settles some of the restlessness I feel as I cannot go to Korea to search as I desire. However, the deeper I delve into adoption advocacy and the actual truth behind adoption, it all becomes so depleting and depressing to see the evil that continues to exist in the exploitation of helpless women, children, and the poor. I have read countless true stories of the illegal practices of adoption, and about how the West practices colonization around the world, by using wealth, education, and health care to exploit the most vulnerable all in the name of “the best interests of the child.” In doing so, the West overlooks the essential basic human need of keeping a child in their birth country and the preservation of first families, to the point that it pains me to have any hope for change. I keep speaking the truth to my small audience, but yearn for a larger one to rip apart the lies that surround the adoption narrative. Advocates have come and gone before me, and it seems that the lies continue to be stronger than our truths. Why is that? How do we get the power to change it? How many more decades, or even centuries, will have to pass for people to see past the sugar coating that surrounds the bitter truth of what adoption, especially inter-country adoption, is?
In the Netherlands, where I live, an investigative adoption committee was formed in 2018 due to a Brazilian adoptee who filed a lawsuit against the Dutch government in regards to his illegal adoption and their role in facilitating his adoption. His wasn’t the first story to make headlines, but it was enough to pressure the Dutch government to set up an independent committee to investigate adoption procedures from 1967-1998 in five different countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
The report was delivered to the Dutch government on February 8, 2021 and they advised that inter-country adoption be immediately stopped, to which the government followed! It has caused quite the uproar in the adoption channels as no one expected such “drastic” measures to be taken so quickly. However, if one reads the report, how can one not expect the Dutch government to respond in this manner? The report concludes that “abuses and their consequences are not a thing of the past; they are still relevant today.” The committee recognized that adoptions have decreased and reform has been carried out to various degrees to prevent abuse, “but that has not removed the system’s financial incentives, and there is still a demand for children. This gives rise to a ‘waterbed effect’: the channels for adoption shift to countries—at the moment primarily African countries—which do not have controls in place.” The committee screened an additional 18 countries for abuse before and after 1998 and abuse was found in all of the additional countries before and after 1998.
It’s validating to read what adoptees have been speaking about for decades. However, this time it’s an independent report giving advice to a governing body who “seems” to be listening. I emphasize "seems," as just with any political headline that circulates, it’s important to read the fine print and actually see the practical reform measures put in place. First, the Minister of Legal Protection, Sander Dekkers, recognizes the Dutch government’s lack of responsibility taken in these illegal practices, which for adoptees is a gigantic step of finally being heard. Initial measures include the establishment of a center for “post-care” servicing, as recommended by the committee, to facilitate birth family searches, and access to adoption files.
Furthermore, the statute of limitations will no longer be invoked in proceedings of adoptees against the Dutch government. This is relevant to Dilani Butink, an adoptee who filed a lawsuit in 2020 against the Dutch government due to her illegal adoption, but whose case was thrown out of court due to this very statute of limitations. However, if after a year of investigations an independent committee has confirmed that these illegal practices have occurred, why should the victims then be forced to file a lawsuit in order to receive justice for the crimes committed against them? Isn’t this, yet again, a lax response by the government shirking responsibility? Will this result in just an explosion of headlines, only to fizzle out and disappear, leaving children to continue to be exploited by the inter-country adoption process?
Only we, as adult adoptees, can determine this fate. Just as the report also recognizes that the reason why public sentiment has slowly been changing in regards to adoption being seen as “doing something good,” is largely due to adult adoptee voices. As adopted children have become adults and have been voicing their truths (oftentimes after searching for their origins and uncovering illegal practices) and fighting for justice; truth is prevailing and becoming louder than the lies surrounding adoption practices. Suspension of inter-country adoption in the Netherlands is due to the committee’s recommendation and conclusion: “The system of inter-country adoption with private elements cannot be maintained in its current form. The committee has serious doubts about whether it is possible to design a realistic public-law system under which the abuses identified could no longer occur. Pending the outcome of the decision-making process, the committee recommends suspending inter-country adoption.”
This suspension is due to adoptees having the courage to use their voices and fight for current and future adoptees.
I will continue to speak, even if my voice and audience are small. However, if we collectively speak, then the noise can only become louder. Then, it won’t only be the Dutch government listening, but every country in the world that hosts adoption. From one adoptee to another, we’re two million strong, so please unite and join the movement: #NotAThing.