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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

The Baby Sehwa case

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This guest blog was written by Jill Melaas.

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Lisa Black, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, has been following a court case for the past few months involving an Evanston, Illinois couple and the country of South Korea. Christopher and Jinshil Duquet went to South Korea to adopt Baby Sehwa a few days after her birth. The child has been raised by the Duquets ever since, and now at 9-months old, the court has decided that the baby must return to South Korea.

The reporter did a good job chronicling the case and presenting the details that led to the court's involvement. Christopher and Jinshil were accused of circumventing South Korean adoption laws. The couple decided to use a private lawyer instead of a South Korean adoption agency to complete the adoption. Years earlier the couple had adopted a daughter from South Korea through an agency, but were told they were now too old under South Korean law to follow the same procedures. However, South Korean law requires that children be placed through a licensed adoption agency. The couple reported that they received bad legal advice and believed they were participating in a lawful adoption. Jinshil is a South Korea native who moved to the United States as a child and heard about Sehwa through a pastor with connections to her family. Jinshil proceeded to contact local immigration lawyers, who put her in touch with a South Korean lawyer who said he could arrange a private adoption. The Duquets claimed they did not realize there was a problem with the adoption until they returned to the United States with Sehwa and were told by officials at O'Hare International Airport that she did not have the appropriate adoption paperwork.

The Duquets were unsuccessful in attesting that, despite their error, it was in Sehwa's best interest to remain in their care. On February 28, the court sided with the South Korean government and determined that the child must be deported. Baby Sehwa returned to South Korea on March 6, where she is to be placed with a South Korean family for adoption. The Chicago Tribune article lacked further detail on how the court came to its decision.

The articles chronicling this case provide a tragic example of the complications that can arise with intercountry adoption. Intercountry adoption can become quite complex as it incorporates family law, criminal law, and immigration practices of both countries involved in the adoption process. Numerous countries have attempted to alleviate these complexities by creating a treaty with other nations that establish common provisions regarding intercountry adoption. The Hauge Convention (or http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php) is a treaty agreement that establishes safeguards and a standardized approach to guarantee that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child. While the United States is a signatory to the agreement, South Korea is not. If South Korea had been a signatory, and the adoption had followed the Hauge Convention's provisions, Baby Sehwa may not have been subjected to this unfortunate situation. Either way, this case illustrates the importance of obtaining advice from specialists in intercountry adoption and understanding the laws of both countries involved before proceeding with an adoption.

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