To avoid possible controversy during the Olympics, South Korea has temporarily halted foreign adoption of its babies.
The government has not officially confirmed the ban, but adoption agencies acknowledged they were asked to stop sending babies overseas for adoption for two months before and during the Olympics, which run from Sept. 17 to Oct. 2.South Korea sends about 7,000 children abroad annually for adoption in the United States and Europe. Adoption officials say South Korea is one of the easiest nations for overseas adoptions.
"We are getting a lot of complaints from foreign adoptive parents, but we have to follow the government order," said one senior official at a Seoul adoption agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said his agency alone would not be able to send 200 babies for adoption in the United States during the two-month period.
Baby adoption is an embarrassing issue for South Korea, with critics saying that now that the nation has achieved prosperity it should care for its orphans and other unwanted children.
Overseas baby adoption began when South Korea was poor, its economy devastated by the Korean War of 1950-53, and the government encouraged the practice to help alleviate the country's social and economic problems.
Some unofficial estimates indicate that about 14,000 South Korean babies are adopted at home and abroad each year. They are given up for adoption by unwed mothers or abandoned by their parents.
Government officials refused to give out any figures or grant interviews, but many social workers agree that South Korea probably was the largest supplier of babies for adoption in the United States in 1987.
Social workers estimated that about half of the 12,000 foreign babies adopted in the United States last year came from South Korea.
Domestic adoption continues to be a problem, because most Koreans value blood ties and do not want to take in unrelated children.