Norway seeks to work with Korea to investigate illegal adoptions

Posted on : 2023-03-03 17:34 KST Modified on : 2023-03-03 17:34 KST
Recent reports that adoptees were taken without the consent of the parents have jumpstarted an effort by the Northern European nation to look into the history of overseas adoption
Silje Hjemdal, a Norwegian lawmaker, speaks with the Hankyoreh in Seoul on March 1. (Kang Chang-kwang/The Hankyoreh)
Silje Hjemdal, a Norwegian lawmaker, speaks with the Hankyoreh in Seoul on March 1. (Kang Chang-kwang/The Hankyoreh)

The Norwegian government has recently taken action to set up an independent body to look into illegal adoptions that have taken place in the past.

Over the past three years, Norwegian society has been stunned by local news reports about children adopted from Korea, Ecuador, Colombia and other countries. According to the reports, some children were shipped off without the consent of their birth parents and others were fraudulently depicted as orphans despite their parents being alive.

The discussion about setting up an investigative body in Norway has picked up speed since the South Korean government moved ahead with an investigation of its own this past December.

The Hankyoreh sat down with Silje Hjemdal, a Norwegian lawmaker who is visiting South Korea to discuss cooperation with the Korean government, in downtown Seoul on Wednesday. A member of the Progress Party, Hjemdal sits on the Standing Committee on Family and Cultural Affairs in the Norwegian parliament, known as the Storting.

“The Storting has started to take an interest because these Norwegian citizens may have been illegally adopted as children. There’s also acceptance of the need for an independent body because the government itself could become the subject of investigation. We’ve taken the first step toward learning the truth about the past,” Hjemdal said.

Hjemdal mentioned one adoptee who had assumed they were an orphan until the age of 55, when they learned that their mother was still living in Korea.

Overseas adoption of Korean children began in 1958, in the years after the Korean War, and was in full swing between the 1960s and the 1990s. It’s estimated that more than 4,000 of the 6,500 Korean adoptees in Norway (as of 2016) were adopted during that period.

The Norwegian government’s move to set up an independent investigative body was prompted by the decision of Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in December 2022 to investigate the matter. The commission accepted a petition by Korean adoptees in nine countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, to investigate cases of human rights violations that occurred in the process of overseas adoption.

Hjemdal was one of 10 Norwegian lawmakers who discussed means of cooperation with the commission’s chairman, Kim Kwang-dong, and investigators on Feb. 27. Cooperation with the Korean government and adoption agencies will be essential if Norway’s independent investigative body is to function effectively.

“When we go back to Norway, we’ll seek to persuade our parliament of the need to cooperate with the [Korean] Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Hjemdal said.

She added that she hopes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will lengthen its investigation or set up a standing investigative body.

A total of 372 petitions related to overseas adoption have been submitted to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including 21 from Norway. But only one of the 34 petitions that the commission is currently investigating was submitted by a Norwegian.

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

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