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A HISTORY OF ADOPTIONS FROM SOUTH KOREA

In 1955 Harry Holt, an Oregon farmer, was so moved by the plight of orphans from the Korean War that he and his wife, Bertha, adopted 8 children from South Korea. The arrival of these children to their new home in Oregon received national press coverage, sparking interest among Americans from all over the country who also wanted to adopt Korean children. In partial response, Harry and Bertha Holt created what has become the largest agency in the U.S. specializing in Korean children - Holt International Children's Services which has placed some 60,000 Korean children into American homes.

During the same period, the South Korean government began formalizing overseas adoption through a special agency under the Ministry of Social Affairs. For the first decade, the majority of children sent overseas were mixed-race children of American (and other United Nations) military fathers and Korean women. (Biracial children in Korea were called "dust of the streets," a term that illustrates the pervasive negative attitudes in South Korea toward these children.) Soon the practice of placing Korean babies for adoption became institutionalized and over the course of several decades following the Korean War, South Korea became the largest supplier of children to developed countries in the world. An estimated 200,000 South Korean children have been sent overseas for adoption (about 150,000 to the U.S. and the remaining 50,000 to Canada, Europe, and Australia.) In Europe, Korean children have been adopted by families in such countries as Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France, Germany, and Luxembourg.

Prior to the Korean War, adoption was not a common practice in Korea. Cultural values emphasized bloodline and if adoptions did take place, they were done within the same family to preserve the family line. However, during the late 1950s and 1960s, with foreign adoptions becoming the primary social policy for orphaned and abandoned children, many distraught parents from poverty-stricken families who could not feed or educate their children abandoned them with hopes of getting them to a Western country. Most of the children adopted during this period were older.

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