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U.S. couple to lose South Korean baby after failed adoption attempt

(MCT) CHICAGO — An Evanston, Ill., couple accused of circumventing South Korean adoption laws have lost their bid to keep a 9-month-old girl whom they have raised since shortly after her birth, with the baby scheduled to return to her native country Wednesday, officials have confirmed.

Jinshil and Christopher Duquet have said they relied on bad legal advice and thought they were participating in a lawful private adoption of the baby, Sehwa, last June.

But when Jinshil Duquet initially tried to enter the U.S. with the baby, authorities at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport found she lacked the required paperwork for an adoption. After that, South Korean and U.S. officials intervened and fought in local and federal courts for the baby’s return.

“It looks like South Korea has prevailed,” said Nancy Pender, a spokeswoman for Schiller DuCanto & Fleck, the law firm that is representing the South Korean government in the case.

She declined to provide any details about what triggered the action or how the baby’s deportation will be handled. The Duquets had been pursuing a private adoption through a Cook County (Ill.) Circuit Court in proceedings that are closed to the public. The court most recently heard the case on Thursday, Pender said.

The Duquets, through their lawyers, declined comment. The couple have said in the past that if they must give up the baby, they want their goodbyes to remain private.

“The adoption didn’t work out, basically,” said one of their lawyers, Jamie Teich. “Our whole team of people here are saddened and devastated by it.”

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice declined comment.

Sehwa will be placed with a Korean family for adoption, as opposed to an orphanage, Pender said.

The baby’s birth mother and grandparents relinquished parental rights to the Duquets and do not want the child back, officials agree. The biological mother lives at a homeless shelter for unwed mothers and has another child, according to court testimony.

But Korean officials say the Duquets skirted Korean laws by failing to go through a licensed adoption agency. Jinshil Duquet, a Korean native who moved to the U.S. as a child, learned about the baby through a pastor with ties to her family, she testified in court.

She contacted immigration lawyers in Chicago, who put her in touch with a Korean lawyer who said he could arrange for a private adoption. The Duquets had formerly adopted an older daughter from Korea by going through an agency, but were told they were too old under Korean law to follow the same procedures again.

The Duquets argued that, despite their mistakes, it was in Sehwa’s best interests to remain with them.

South Korea and other countries have in recent years tightened laws on foreign adoptions to prevent trafficking and abuse, and the Korean government has provided new incentives for domestic adoptions. Some experts say many Korean children remain in orphanages because of a cultural stigma against adoption and unwed motherhood.

While Sehwa’s situation “is tragic … it certainly points out to why you follow the rules,” said Susan Soonkeum Cox, spokesperson for Holt International Children’s Services in Eugene, Ore., which arranges international adoptions.

She has just returned from Korea, where the Duquets’ case has been covered extensively by news media.

“While people were sympathetic to everyone, within the adult adoptee community, it was reinforced that you just can’t willy-nilly get a child,” Cox said. “Children deserve to have the protection of authorities and government.”


©2013 Chicago Tribune

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