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The unrestrained expansion of 'child exports' during 1980s authoritarian period

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The number of children sent overseas for adoption / Courtesy of Lee Kyung-eun
This article is the 16th in a series about Koreans adopted abroad. Apparently, many Koreans never expected that the children it had sent away via adoption would return as adults with questions demanding to be answered. However, thousands of adoptees visit Korea each year. Once they rediscover this country, it becomes a turning point in their lives. We should embrace the dialogue with adoptees to discover the path to recovering our collective humanity. ― ED.

By Lee Kyung-eun

Shortly after the assassination of Park Chung-hee in 1979, Chun Doo-hwan led a successful military coup that would see Korea's authoritarian leadership period continue until 1992. The tumultuous political change that has come to define this period also influenced the politics of intercountry adoption. Throughout Chun's rule, the number of children sent for adoption experienced dramatic annual fluctuations, as seen in the graph.

Since the dominant narrative of adoption has been populated by stereotypes and myths about so-called "outcast" children, little attention has been paid to fully contemplating the sheer number of children these statistics represent. When these figures shift by the thousands, it's easy to forget the human lives behind the data. Moreover, we should not forget that transferring a single child across a national border requires navigating a complex set of administrative immigration procedures. In the 1980s, these travel processes were further complicated by the restrictions that the authoritarian government placed on people's overseas travel. Before 1989, few Koreans were granted passports to travel abroad.

Those who were among the limited number of Koreans who were granted a passport stand in stark contrast to the outflow of Korean children for adoption. In 1985, when the rate of intercountry adoption peaked, more than 8,800 children were sent abroad. This figure represents 1.3 percent of the total births, which was around 650,000, in Korea that year. Thus, despite the difficulty that Koreans had in traveling........

© The Korea Times

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