My two cents: Chicago couple battling to adopt South Korean baby

I just read a Chicago Tribune story about a legal battle over a 7-month-old baby girl taken out of Korea illegally. The situation is upsetting, but I find that the people I'm most upset with are the people who want to be her adoptive parents.

Here's the recap:

Jinshil and Christopher Duquet wanted to expand their family through adoption. They already have one daughter, age 10, whom they had adopted from South Korea. Jinshil is South Korean, having moved to the US when she was a child. They attempted to adopt another child in 2011 but learned that they had aged out of the program. Jinshil, 49, and her husband, 55, far surpass the 45 year old age limit for Korean adoptions.

According to the Duquets, they were contacted by a family member of Jinshil's in Korea, who knew of an unwed mother living at a shelter for pregnant women who was searching for an adoptive family. They made an arrangement and Jinshil flew to Korea, waited for the baby's birth, took custody and brought the baby to the US when she was just a few weeks old. According to the family, they worked through a South Korean lawyer to facilitate this "adoption" and have documentation from the child's birth mother and grandmother relinquishing custody.

Upon arrival to the US, they were detained at the airport because the baby did not have the proper documentation for adoption. They appeared in the US courts and the baby was removed from their care due to lack of the proper immigration documents. They filed a court suit, were named guardians and regained custody while this debate over immigration is being dealt with. South Korea says they took the baby illegally and demands the child be surrendered back to South Korea.

Here's why this story bothers me...

* There are rules people. And the rules are set forth by the country of origin. You may not agree with these rules, but that's the way it is. South Korea has deemed that children placed for adoption must have the opportunity to be adopted in Korea first. No child is placed for international adoption until the age of 5-months to allow for the possibility that they may remain in their birth country. This child did not have that opportunity.

* The Duquets have completed an international adoption from Korea before. Anyone who is in this program knows all adoptions are facilitated from the three state sanctioned programs. It can be a complicated and cumbersome system at times, but out of the 40 years Korea has been doing IA, their program has been steady and solid. While no system is foolproof, this system seems to work well in preventing/controlling fraudulent adoptions.

* These folks are WAY out of the age limits. Again, you might not agree with the rules, but Korea absolutely has the right to dictate the terms of international adoption. You age out, you are out of luck.

* No one is arguing that the child was not in need of a home or that the Duquet's do not have a suitable home to give her. The Duquet's are arguing that they were following advice from their South Korean lawyer. They believed they were within the law. But supposedly the Duquets had previously spoken with a South Korean orphanage about their age...might they have also consulted about whether their "private" adoption was legal? And again, they were no strangers to the confusing land of international adoption. It seems likely that they thought they had found a loophole in the system and decided to take advantage of it.

* The most upsetting part for me is that this little girl is paying the price for the Duquet's missteps. A doctor has stated the child shows signs of trauma, due to her removal from the family's care. The family cites that trauma as reasons why the child should remain in their custody.

I still have a lot of friends in process right now---the legal process---waiting to bring home their children from Korea. This story has sent shards of fear through that community. Terrified that the Duquet's actions will usher in more severe penalties for those who are law abiding. In the wake of the 2010 case where Artyem Saviliev was returned to Russia by his adoptive mother, which sparked the demand and the subsequent passage of an US ban on adoptions, I don't think this fear is paranoid. The situation couldn't have occurred at a more difficult time. 

Law changes in Korean adoption implemented last year and still being sorted out and have stalled the adoption processes for everyone. The courts are sorting out what documentation they require, children are being abandoned by birth mothers due to the new registry requirements, and additional red tape has meant hundreds of children are delayed even further from being placed in their forever homes. 

Could this situation mean even more legal wrangling and delays as the government interprets and enacts the new laws?

This quote from a Chicago Tribune story sums it up best: 
"Julie Tye, president of The Cradle, an Evanston adoption agency, offered words of warning to families who want to adopt a child from another country.
"If you find a way to do an adoption in a way that no one else seems to have done, you have to ask yourself this question: 'Do I know something that nobody else knows, or do they know something that I don't know?'
"When it comes to adoption, especially international adoption, the path less traveled is probably the one to be avoided," Tye said."


Related links:
Evanston couple fights for South Korea adoption {Chicago Tribune}
Evanston couple battling 2 countries over adoption  {Chicago Tribune}
South Korea tries to recall US adoption {Christian Science Monitor}


  1. I hadn't read about this case but just read the articles. I presume the adoptive mom is still a Korean citizen, so I wonder if this is more like a domestic adoption. If that were the case I'm not sure the age rules for the APs or child are relevant, as I believe rules for adopting domestically are more lenient. In any event the stories seem to be leaving out many details. Like exactly what happened in Korea. Was there a court hearing? Did the adoptive parents deceive the Korean government? Or did the lawyer do something fraudulent unbeknownst to the APs?

  2. Good post. So many things about this situation bother me, and you summed it up very well. I'm positive the Duquets knew exactly what they were doing - and that that's why they did it. They were trying to avoid the formal adoption process - and all the rules and red tape that go with it both in the US and Korea. Sad, sad situation.

  3. Heather, good point about the Mom being a potential Korean citizen, but even with domestic adoptions, they still have to process through one of the three main agencies. I don't believe there was a court hearing in Korea, because in international adoptions, the adoptions are finalized in the U.S. A new rule put in place in August 2012 has now introduced a court process in Korea, which is still being hammered out. I do agree though, that the story left out some key details and as it develops, maybe we'll hear more about it.

  4. I appreciate seeing an adoptive parent who is for following the rules and can identify why this case is so wrong. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

    However, I would like to point out that the South Korean adoption system is not as robust as you seem to think it is. It has been plagued by the same forced and coerced relinquishments as the Baby Scoop Era did in western countries that are now considered wrong in these countries. The Australian government has just apologized for these activities. The new amendment to the Special Adoption law that requires SK mothers have 7 days to make up their minds about relinquishment has meant that in at least one Salvation Army home (Duri) for unwed mothers there has been zero relinquishments following the time given to make the decision. Prior to this many consents for adoption were obtained from mothers at the time of birth whilst mothers were still fatigued and sometimes stupefied with pain relief drugs, some having no memory of signing anything. Some women couldn’t afford to pay their hospital bills especially if the child had a medical problem so felt forced to trade for their child’s wellbeing by the offers by adoption agencies to pay for the bills and loose their children. South Korean women deserve to be able to make up their minds about this (like western women have taken for granted for a number of decades), and have the backing of social services to be able to raise their children.

    International adoption from SK has been going on since the mid-1950s when war orphans and poverty were issues, not a mere 40 years during which Korea has prospered. I was adopted from SK in 1971 and my family no gave no consent in this, they did not relinquish nor abandon me, even though my fabricated records show I was “abandoned”. The kind of kidnapping I was subjected to is called orphanage abduction, which is where a child is entrusted to an orphanage for temporary care (usually due to a death in the family or temporary hardship) and the parents are defrauded by the orphanage and the child is sent for international adoption (it’s lucrative) and there is nothing a parent can do when they come back to retrieve their child. It has lead to 40 years of grief in my family until I was able to find them, no thanks to the adoption agency, but through a television plea. This may have been 40 years ago, but still the agencies are not compelled to provide any transparency for past practice, or release our records, and recent exposes show that “consent” is still obtained disingenuously.

    Also I would like to address the misconception that Heather presumed. Jinshil Duquet is an American citizen (information found online). Dual citizenship is a new concept for Korea (2010 Nationality amendment), and is rare. It has been the historical case that a Korean citizen renounces their citizenship when they are naturalized to another country. It is extremely doubtful that Jinshil is a Korean citizen since she has lived in the US since childhood and had previously completed a different international adoption from Korea. If she was still a Korean citizen and eligible to adopt “domestically” she would no doubt have taken advantage of that, and there is not evidence she has. She and her husband have simply flouted the law.

    Korean law on adoption needs to be respected as it transitions from a country that made a business out of international adoption to one that accepts the responsibility of looking after its own (both mothers and their children). Returned Korean adoptees are at the forefront of this movement. But your greater moral compass should be informed by applying the values you hold dear on parenthood to those in another country. If you value women’s rights to raise their children and children’s birthrights, you have to question the Korean model.

  5. Lauri,

    Thanks so much for your viewpoints! I appreciate your in-depth knowledge and your openness to enter into a discussion.

    Yes, I know that no system is fail safe and I'm so very sorry to hear of your adoption story. How difficult for you and your adoptive family to learn the history of your past, and devastating for your birth family. I agree with you that South Korean women need support in order to make a true choice about whether to parent a child out of wedlock. We have donated to funds to help support these women and I hope that changes occur in SK to change the status quo.

    Until that time though, what to do about the children? Your birth story scares me to death, and I know that as awful as it is, it has happened more times than anyone wants to think about. I feel heartbroken for both of your families---for your birth family's loss and anguish, and I'm sure your adoptive parents were crushed by this information as well.

    As for the relinquishment rates at the Salvation Army home (Duri) for unwed mothers, is that truly a zero relinquishment rate? Truly women who were willing to parent their children after the 7 days, or is the zero rate due to a lack of women attempting to relinquish at all because they feared the registry listing requirement? My information has been that there are practically no women coming to the agencies at all since the passage of the new rules.

    Please keep reading and commenting! I really love these types of dialogues and it's very valuable for the lines of communication to be open. I believe that often APs are villianized and I've met many defensive ones, so I can understand why we are viewed that way. But I think we can agree that both sides of the fence have the children of SK in our hearts and want to do what is right for them.

    All the best!

    1. Pix,

      As to my own situation and other adoptees stories, there are definitely other dodgy practices that I know from other adoptees, but most Korean adoptees have not had reunion with their first families, the critical information to do so has been kept from them, historically by the agencies. Access to this information is being centralized in a central adoption authority (KCARE which was renamed KAS), however KAS works with agencies so I’m not sure if this means a continuation of the status quo, or just another window of opportunity to make information that implicates fraudulent practice disappear, or if it will genuinely offer greater access and transparency. It is at least a free service, unlike the exorbitant fees charged to me by my adoption agency who failed to give me complete records, but gave ample supply of attitude.

      A common story we get told about records is there was a fire that destroyed our records. This is what was told to me by the current orphanage director of the orphanage in whose temporary care I had been entrusted. Incidentally, I was told by the agency that this orphanage no longer existed. I have heard most adoptees who’ve had reunion find that the stories they are told about by the agencies and adoptive parents are not the stories they find out from their original families. This has certainly been the case with myself and other adoptees in reunion that I know.

      What was already happening with Duri Home For Unwed Mothers is they are supported in bringing up their children, they not only receive financial assistance for education and training but emotional and practical support. They can also transition from this home to a group home which is unwed mothers supporting each other. 80% of the women in Duri were already choosing to keep their children before the new amendment.

      This is in stark contrast to high rates of relinquishment in homes run in association with adoption agencies, which were homes that were set up as the number of children dwindled who were being placed for adoption. That is, they were set up as a harvesting ground for babies. Mothers are not well supported in keeping their children, they don’t offer information on child rearing etc, rather they are counseled toward adoption and require in the counseling process (as early as the first session) that women sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to relinquish and then don’t apprise them this actually has no legal standing. These are the homes where mothers who change their mind and come back for their children find they are required to pay cash (not credit) at a daily rate for the time their children are in foster care which is beyond the means of most of these mothers. They are also shamed for changing their mind. One mother decided to keep her child whilst they were in the home and was punished by being refused to see or nurse her child despite being painfully swollen with milk and the child being kept in the same facility.

    2. continued...

      With regards to the registration of children, it pertains to all Korean citizens. How it pertains to adoption is to say that children to be adopted are not exempt. If you expect all children born in western countries to be given birth certificates at birth whether they are then subsequently adopted or not, I think there is a double standard if you don’t expect children to have an equivalent documentation in another country. Given that historically many relinquishments of children have been made by people who are not the parents of the child, don’t you think it’s a good idea to have some evidence that the person relinquishing has the right to do so? I know of one woman whose paternal grandmother kidnapped her and her brother and took them to an orphanage for adoption to break up her son’s marriage. It didn’t break up the marriage and they had another child who is living the life that she and her brother should have been included in. She was also told of a fire that destroyed her records. I have heard of other stories of non-parental “relinquishments” also from Korea, but don’t know them personally. Although it has no legal standing, it has been common practice up until now for agencies to accept the “relinquishments” made by grandparents.

      There may well be unwanted reactions to the registration system where it pertains to relinquishment, it’s bound to be complex. Historically there has been a lack of information out in the public for unwed mothers but no shortage of adoption agency advertising, so the first point of call for many expectant mothers is a well-publicized agency whose agenda is clearly for the procurement of children. These agencies are not for the change in law as this is seen as an obstacle in the adoption business, and I’d be suspicious of how they handle first contact given how they have in the past and there is certainly evidence that women have been turned away. It is not against their interests if they can contribute to or show how these laws are not working. And they certainly have been making a hue and cry about it. Clearly there needs to be a place where woman can be referred to and seek advice in how to handle their individual situations, and if the first point of call has been agencies then they need to be giving referrals. If a mother fully apprised of her options really wants to give her child up for adoption she should be given the support to do this within the law not left on her own, fearful and desperately seeking ways to dodge legal and moral obligations.

      From an ethical point, children have rights too, and the right to identity is not something to be taken lightly and legislation should be written to reflect this. How this is best achieved when this is not the business of adoption agencies nor most pressingly on the minds of young mothers in a bind, fearing their families and the child’s father’s reactions, is still something that needs to be worked on. But not something to be thrown out with the bathwater (or more apropos, the baby).

    3. continued...

      This is a quote from a Korean adoptee whose work for G.O.A.’L. (a neutral organization set up by adoptees for adoptees returning to Korea) has had a tremendous impact on the lives of returning and searching adoptees which sums up information in an article on Kyeongin.com: “The new governmental site with information on child support/support for day nursery/pre-Kindergarten and where applications are being received was overwhelmed by the requests from the public and is experiencing delays due to the high number of applicants. It shows that there is a extremely high demand for this kind of support.”

      So when you ask “what to do about the children?” I see that plenty is being done, much by courageous loving Korean mothers, and those that support them including returned adoptees, and the Korean government has been responding (although this may change with the newly elected president), and that the most obstructive voices in this equation tend to be adoption agencies and adoptive parents. Their attitudes and agendas are understandable given agencies stand to lose business and potentially their existence, and potential adoptive parents just may not get a child. But hardly justifiable. Plenty more needs to be done still, but it is a shame that adoptive parents and potential adoptive parents are frequently missing from this if it is indeed the welfare of children. To consider a child’s welfare as separate from their mother’s welfare is generally to do a disservice to both.

      Consider also, that the U.S.A. has more children in care than South Korea has. My principles are that one should look after those closest to home before you interfere with the lives of those further from it, a nation that can’t look after her own has no business importing children to it, especially from countries that have the impetus to look after their own.

      Lauri Lee

  6. I hope that the baby does get a good family in the end. Either abroad or in South Korea. It doesn't matter, as long as she's cared for.
    I lived in Korea for a few years. My heart breaks for all those orphans there. They do get good care, but they have nowhere to go when they age out. They don't get good jobs, go to university, etc. Education is so expensive there and so competitive, that parents spend lots of money and time on from when their children are toddlers. An orphan has no chance of doing well when they leave.
    I am sad that Korea has chosen to limit the amount of kids adopted abroad. They should let them get families there.
    Yet I am glad that Korea is helping their own people adopt children. That is a big step. It is true that they care a lot about bloodlines, so adoption isn't common.
    I just hope that Korea keeps the doors open for int'l adoption.
    I hope something gets worked out in this case soon.

  7. I don't see anything wrong in adopting a baby, but you are right. There are rules, rules that need to be followed and if you don't, consequences like these will happen and the child will be the one to suffer. You’re lucky if you pulled it off, but if not, then what will happen to the kid? We should think not only of ourselves but the baby’s welfare as well. We adopt them to give them a family and a future -- not this. If you are not allowed to adopt in Korea, perhaps go to another country. Other babies/children are in need of a family too. Things are not always gonna go the way we planned, we have to accept and adapt to that, and not bend the rules just to have our way.


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