What Does the Future Hold for Ethiopian Orphans?
By Meron Tekleberhan
Addis Ababa, April 17, 2011 (Ezega.com) - Judging from the large numbers of American and European adoptive parents and their Ethiopian children on the streets of Addis Ababa it is no surprise that Ethiopia is one of the most popular adoption destinations in the world. Adoptions from Ethiopia have increased considerably over the years peaking last year at approximately 2500 last year. However, in spite of unflagging interest from Western adoptive parents in Ethiopian orphans, these numbers are expected to be relatively lower this year. This will be primarily due to the new directive from the Ethiopian government ministry responsible for Inter-country adoption, The Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs.
This Ministry took the initiative to reduce the numbers of children being adopted internationally by as much as 90% to weed out alleged abuses in the procedures of some adoption agencies and orphans. Allegedly children with living parents have been fraudulently put up for adoption by unscrupulous operators. Such illegality and bad incidences of human trafficking have beset adoption in Asia and other African countries.
This directive was met with mixed emotions. Some who resent the increasing numbers of children leaving our borders applauded the government for taking the stand. One such an advocate is Ato Tewdros, who bristles with nationalistic sentiment.
“I get angry when I see infants being torn away from their homeland and their people before they can appreciate any of it. I understand the reality of our national poverty and the social effects of HIV/AIDS. But I still believe that there is something we can do as a nation to keep our children from being raised in a foreign society to which they will be always alien to some degree.”
Ato Adane,* who formerly worked for an orphanage that catered to children awaiting International adoptions agrees that there should be stricter government control of International adoptions but for very different reasons. He feels that the huge sums of money that exchange hands over each adoption have resulted in greed amongst all parties involved; adopting agencies and orphanages.
“I worked for a faith based orphanage for three years. I was in charge of creating profiles for each child, from which the agencies worked. My boss, who was also one of the founders of the orphanage, told me that Americans paid close to $20,000 for each child. The way he described this sum and the cut the orphanage got made me uncomfortable from the beginning. I felt that it was wrong to discuss the children as items for sale. I was also concerned because it didn’t seem the children were cared for properly. I knew that the agencies we worked with contributed more than 80,000 Ethiopian Birr a month for their care but there were days when the cook was unable to prepare dinner because the food had run out. Please understand that I cannot corroborate any claims of financial wrongdoing by the management because I was never in charge of that side of things. I’m just stating my observations.”
Ato Adane is worried that the delays that will be cause by the recent government directive will cause children to stay longer and longer in institutions. “I fully support the government controlling illegal operators but it is also a sad thing that children are being forced to stay in orphanages for longer periods of time. The government needs to make sure that children in orphanages are properly taken care of. This is especially going to be a concern if funds from adoption agencies dwindle with decreasing numbers of adoptions overall.”
Ato Thomas* currently working with one of the few internationally licensed adopting agencies working in Addis feels that the move by the Ethiopian government to decrease the number of international adoptions to such a dramatic degree was rash and unnecessary.
“There may be some illegalities with small local operators attempting to facilitate private adoptions. This, however, is not the case with international agencies that have global reputations to protect. Our agency for example is licensed in the United States. It rigorously adheres to the laws and regulations of that nation as well as the laws of the countries it operates in. It is hard to imagine that agencies with such extensive worldwide experience can resort to fraudulent practices in this particular case”
There is an increasing emphasis on local adoptions, as an alternative to international adoptions, being made by the national media and local NGOs. Most Ethiopian cultures don’t have a tradition of formal adoption although that there are suggestions that such practices existed with the Oromo people from antiquity. Although many people take in and raise orphaned or impoverished relatives there are usually clearly marked boundaries. These children could be well-cared for or treated as unpaid house help, but they are rarely recognized as official members of the family.
Such tendencies of bias in favor of biological children still make people wary about adoption. This is especially the case for children who are absolute strangers as those who are up for adoption in the orphanages are bound to be.
W/zo Maeza, married mother of two, cringes at the thought of adopting a child, expressing opinions that are shared by many other Ethiopians.
“I think I’m being honest when I say that I don’t think I can treat an adopted child the same way I do my own. I have a blood bond with my own that was formed in the womb. I understand that someone has to take care of the very many orphans in our country but I think it would be better if infertile people adopted instead of those who already have families disrupting their life.”
W/zo Martha and Ato Yohannes, who adopted one toddler and an older child after years of battling infertility, are saddened by this attitude.
“We were made to feel shame for our inability to conceive. We almost isolated ourselves from the society because we hated to hear the incessant questions and useless pieces of advice. We were haunted by pitying looks and some people even felt that our marriage was doomed to break up over this. When we finally decided to adopt our two children from their sole guardian, an elderly grandmother, we were ecstatic. We fell in love and bonded with them almost overnight, they were as love-starved as we were. We didn’t even consider the social consequences.
But almost all our relatives thought that our desire to take in strange children was a symptom of our desperation. They cautioned that strangers can never be blood and flesh and that we should always keep that in mind. We’ve cut all connection with some of our first cousins because they insisted on treating our children as little beggars, one even went as far as to order our older child around. There have, however been some friends who have been incredibly supportive and enlightened about the whole thing.”
With local adoption still in its infancy and international adoption expected to take a hit, someone should be asking what is to happen to the millions of Ethiopian Orphans.
Meron Tekleberhan is Addis Ababa based reporter for Ezega.com. She can be reached by sending email through this form.