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Saturday, May 5, 2012
Don't Adopt from Ethiopia
Miriam Jordan at The Wall Street Journal has published an investigative article about adoption from Ethiopia, which has for several years been riddled with allegations of fraud and unethical practices. This article tells the deceptively simple story of Melesech Roth, whose Ethiopian birthmother died of malaria, and whose birthfather (who lives in stone-age poverty) gave her up for adoption when someone came through his village, offering to take children to America who would later help support their families. The writing is so straightforward that you may not realize how extraordinary it is unless you've tried to write a similar piece. Persuading an adoptive family to talk with you on the record, and also finding the biological family and getting them to talk on the record, is a significant feat.
The accompanying ten-minute video is even more powerful than the written story. You can see for yourself that Melesech, by any material measure, is far better off than her siblings, who are pounding grain and building fires in the dirt-floor, mud-walled hut where they live alongside their chickens. But you also see her biological father's face and hearing his voice as he explains that of course he did not give away his child forever; she will support him and come back again. In fact, he says, at around 7:15 into the video, he's thinking of giving up more children because he's still poor:
I will be giving up the children but not to become someone else's child. It's to help me. Not to become someone else's child. What good would that be to me if I give them away?
Here is the dilemma of international adoption in a nutshell. Melesech has a life that, to American eyes, looks far better than the life she had at home. The Roths clearly love her, and adopted her for the right reasons: they wanted to help needy orphans who had no family and no home. They chose one of the most upstanding and reputable adoption agencies, one of the three biggest players in the field: Children's Home Society & Family Services, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, which says that it doesn't pay its orphanages per child, but rather supports them unconditionally, no matter how many children are actually adoptable.
And yet when absurdly large amounts of money are exchanged between a wealthy country and a devastatingly poor country, here's what happens: unscrupulous middlemen scour the countryside and defraud poor families out of their children. Melesech clearly had a family. She was not an orphan (except by UNICEF's oddly expansive definition, which counts as an orphan any child who has lost either parent, even if that child is still living with the other parent). Some adoption solicitor either actively misled Melesech's father, or passively accepted the fact that the man was unable to comprehend the foreign concepts behind Western adoption, with its extremely counterintuitive idea of permanently severing family ties. Melesech's father's experience with child exchange would have been like that of most traditional cultures; he would be familiar with the model in which families send their children to live with richer families so that those children can later come home to help their birthfamilies. Poor nations often live on remittances. Promising family members are sent abroad on the understanding that that relative will send money back to help support the rest of the family.
Melesech's father's expectation was entirely reasonable. So was the Roths' expectation that they were saving a poor child whose family could no longer raise her, as that's the myth that gets perpetuated in the U.S.: the myth that there are millions of healthy orphans under age five who need new homes. Someone profited by exploiting the mismatch between the two.
Ethiopia's adoption program has had some serious scandals over the past few years. About a year and a half ago, I met and spoke with a minister from its Ministry of Women, Children, and Families, who seemed dedicated to cleaning the program up—but the minister may not have had enough internal support to overcome whatever profiteering or bribes might be circulating in the system. Similar things have happened in a series of countries, recently including Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, and most notoriously, Guatemala.
While Melesech's life is materially better, her adoption has not helped those left behind. Her birth family is still, quite literally, dirt poor. So is her country. Other parents are still at risk for dying of malaria, dysentery, and other preventable and treatable illnesses. What Ethiopians really need is a government that is not strangling its development, and forms of aid that actually reach and help individual families. Failing that, is it right to spirit some of their children away?
Here's the rule of thumb: If you can get a healthy infant or toddler within a year, don't adopt from that country. Adopt, instead, from American foster care, or from countries that send abroad very few children, and when they do, the children who are available are older, or disabled, or come in sibling groups, or otherwise have had trouble finding new local homes. Or if you're adopting for humanitarian reasons, donate that money an organization that helps children stay with their families, or brings clean water and mosquito nets and medicines to their villages.
It's far more rewarding to love an individual child than to give to anonymous foreigners. I know; I'm parenting an adopted child. But no one wants to be complicit, even unknowingly, in defrauding a father out of his daughter.
In the past two years, news outlets and adoptive parents have been revealing disturbing stories of fraudulent adoptions from Ethiopia. Adoptive families have been discovering, for instance, that their Ethiopian-born children are older than the adoption agency’s documents suggest; that the children believe their parents were paid for them; or that the children or their families did not know they were going abroad permanently, believing they would get an education and come home. Children have turned out to have serious undisclosed medical issues, or are documented as abandoned when they were in fact relinquished by known birthfamilies. Some adoption agencies appear to be soliciting children directly from families. Reports circulate of problematic orphanages or maternity homes that coerce women to relinquish their newborns. The U.S. Embassy has announced that it may now take weeks, even months, to investigate the facts behind “orphan visa” applications, and that receiving a visa for an adopted child may therefore take longer.
These reports come after several years in which there have been signs that at least some of the country’s adoptions have been shifting from “white” to “gray”—that is, from a well-regulated humanitarian effort dedicated to children’s welfare, to a business that is taking children away from their families in order to gain profits from Western adoption fees. In addition to the firsthand reports, concerning signs have included:
Rapidly expanding numbers of children being adopted internationally. For Ethiopia, the numbers of children sent in adoption climbed from a total of 262 in 2002 to more than 3,887 in 2008, with numbers still higher in 2009. This expansion outpaces regulators’ ability to oversee the system.
More than a dozen Western countries and several thousand prospective families waiting for Ethiopian children. Such high “demand,” combined with the possibility of earning a year’s income in adoption fees per child, can tempt the unscrupulous to procure children for adoption at all costs.
Rapidly increasing numbers of adoption agencies working in the country, including agencies that don’t have longstanding ties to the country or its child welfare efforts, and agencies not licensed by the Ethiopian government (as required) that are partnering or “umbrella’ing” with other agencies.
Change in demographic profile of the children being adopted
from the older children orphaned by their parents’ AIDS, TB, malaria, or other illnesses (the profile of the orphaned children already in the Ethiopian child welfare system); and
to healthy young children (who often turn out to have been solicited for the birth families specifically for the adoption trade).
In 2009, according to the DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics Table 12 [http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/yearbook/2009/table12d.xls], of the 2,221 orphan visas from Ethiopia issued by the US, nearly two-fifths—835—were for infants under one year of age, who are statistically less likely to be orphaned. Another two-fifths, or 850, were between the ages of one and four years. Only 536 were five or older, the ages of children most likely to be in need of new families, according to UNAIDS and UNICEF statistics.
“Homes” for pregnant women that appear to have been created “strictly to provide infants for the adoption trade” (in the words of an observer).
In other countries, all these have been signals that children were being bought, defrauded, coerced, or kidnapped away from their birth families. For more about this pattern, please see:
EDITOR’S NOTE: The posting below from the Adoption Agency Resource Group (AARG) is offered with permission. AARG is a confidential, moderated listserv that attempts to screen out anyone in the adoption business, in order to enable members to exchange honest information about international adoption without fear of libel lawsuit threats, which are said to be common from less ethical agencies. Anyone else may join after applying. The information written here is in accord with stories that I have been told privately by several people who have adopted from Ethiopia. Mike Smith is the group’s owner. The term “PAP” means “prospective adoptive parent”.
Since speaking out about my own well documented Ethiopian adoption experience, numerous other adoptive families have confided in me and have shared with me in confidence their own horrific, heart-wrenching adoption experiences. Would you post this message on the AAR group?
While confidentiality prevents me from sharing the specifics, as these are THEIR stories and not mine, I feel compelled to put out a word of caution to those in adoption process or considering adoption from Ethiopia , or any other country really. I've been in contact with several adoptive parents who have found out that much of what they were told about their adopted children was a lie. These parents are now living with so much grief at the reality that their Ethiopian children are expecting to go back to Ethiopia, as are their parents.
I know there are many adoptive parents who are very happy with their ethical adoption experiences as we were with our first adoption. However, there are other families out there who deserve our consideration as well; families who have become victims of adoption fraud, as well as many Ethiopian families that have been torn apart through corruption and child trafficking.
I feel compelled to ask you, if you wish, to pass this message on to your group for the benefit of those considering or in process of adoption. I would like to ask your members to please consider some of the issues and circumstances that some post-adoptive families are running into:
Some children listed for adoption are turning out to not be true orphans. Many have living parents as well as extended relatives and seem to be being convinced that their children are somehow better off being raised in America.
Some adopted children are claiming that they were bought.
Some adopted children are saying that they were told to lie about their ages or about the health or social status of their parents, even being threatened if they ever tell that their parents are not really dead as the agency said.
Some adopted children are telling stories of mothers standing outside the orphanage crying for their children and then being told to go away, that they have already been paid.
It appears that some birth families are under the impression that they are sending their children away to school in America to send money on a regular basis or return with good fortune for their families someday when they are older.
Some adoptive families are finding out that the babies they were told were abandoned actually had living, healthy and nurturing mothers.
Some families are finding significant discrepancies in age, and health status.
Some adopted children are relating stories about physical and sexual abuses within the orphanage. Some agencies are concealing this information from adoptive families! This is especially dangerous when coupled with age discrepancies. If you have younger children please consider this point!!
Some adoptive families are saying they thought they were safe from corruption since they opted to adopt older children or children with special needs.
10. Some agencies that are 'known' for their ethics, are not ethical at all. Many families state they ignored the red flags because their agency was regarded as being highly ethical.
As with any tragic situation, some of the victims of this kind of fraud have found each other and are sharing their stories for support. Many of these parents have expressed their hesitancy to reveal the details of their experiences for several reasons. However that doesn't make the stories any less real.
Please understand people are hesitant to go public for these reasons:
fear of retaliation, threats, including lawsuits from their agency;
fear of backlash from the adoption community;
fear that by speaking out it will affect other adoptive families and true orphans;
they do not want their family members, let alone the whole world, to know that their adopted; children are victims of child trafficking or sexual abuse;
even if their adopted children were victims of child trafficking or abuse there is nothing they can do about it now and perhaps they are better off to forget about it and move on;
they are in the middle of a lawsuit and are prohibited from discussing their case.
Please encourage PAPs who do not wish to be in our not-so-happy little support group to investigate and investigate and investigate their agency, google their director, their director's spouse, their staff members, their annual salary and check with PEAR and the licensing agencies. Even if there is nothing negative on the AAR board one cannot be cautious enough!!
Tell them to use their first trip, which is now required, to ask as many questions as possible. If there are red flags please heed them. If they are being asked to not contact anyone in Ethiopia or to talk to other families, there may be a reason. If the children are orphans because of poverty and the agency is saying there is no way to sponsor them to keep them together this is not true! There are many organizations in Ethiopia working to keep families intact. International adoption should be a last resort for these children.
I am glad to see the Ethiopia adoption PEAR survey initiative and I hope this will reveal more than I am able to at this time. I urge all ET APs to complete that survey whether they have had a good OR bad adoption experience. The more parents who participate the easier it will be to see exactly which individuals and agencies are responsible for the corruption and which ones are on the up and up.
I do not doubt there have been many happy adoption experiences, and those should be reflected on the survey as well. But PLEASE, for the sake of children and families, please encourage parents that if they or their children have been the victims of fraud, deception or kidnapping, to please share that info with the rest of us, whether it is on this group or through the survey. The rest of need to know which agencies to continue to support and which agencies to avoid. So many families are choosing to stay quiet and if that does not change the trafficking will continue and more and more children and families will be victims. We cannot depend on the governments to keep adoption clean. We need each other to share accurate information and to call for and demand accountability.
NEWS REPORTS OF ADOPTION IRREGULARITIES IN ETHIOPIA
Below are some news articles compiled by the Schuster Institute about adoptions from Ethiopia.
The Federal First Instance Court of Ethiopia has announced that as of May 9, 2010, adoptive parents must appear at the federal court hearing for their adoptive child in order for the adoption to be approved.
In a powerful and disturbing follow-up report, ABC News uncovers major failures [in the international adoption system] including children portrayed as young as 7 or 8, destitute and in danger of being pressed into prostitution who were in fact much older--teenagers--who did have a family who could support them at home. And another harrowing and cruel dimension--children unaware that they're on a one way trip to a new family.
Families and agents have simply been told there are "concerns" that inter-country adoptions are not consistent with obligations under the Hague Convention and its guidelines on the protection of children, and that a review of the program was under way.
(UAI News)—A large adoption agency in the Netherlands, Wereldkinderen, has temporarily stopped adoptions from Ethiopia as a result of recent reports about abuse of the system by the government in Ethiopia and local adoption agencies.
A pop-media obsession with celebrities adopting children in Africa has resulted in a queue of adopting foreigners dealing with opportunistic adoption agents in operating in a regulatory vacuum. In Ethiopia—and beyond—its creating a heartbreaking mess.
The Ethiopian First Instance Court has temporarily stopped accepting cases involving abandoned children from orphanages in Addis Ababa, citing concern over a recent increase in the number of abandoned children being brought for adoption.
The Ethiopian First Instance Court has temporarily stopped accepting cases involving abandoned children from orphanages in Addis Ababa, citing concern over a recent increase in the number of abandoned children being brought for adoption.
Several Canadian families say they have been misled by documentation they have received from the Canadian Advocates For Adopting Children, based in Minnedosa, Man. The families claim that CAFAC has informed them their child is an orphan when the parents in fact exist. They also say that sometimes the children's ages are wildly off and the health of these kids varies greatly from what they have been told before traveling to Addis Ababa to pick them up.
Follow the link to watch the video broadcast segment of this article: Learning the Truth. Also broadcast in French: L'adoption tout risque.
Of the 14,000 Ethiopian infants born with HIV every year, a handful are now being adopted by Americans. The agency that arranges most HIV-positive adoptions in Ethiopia did two such in 2005; 38 are either completed or pending as of November 2008. Ethiopia is at the forefront of this trend of offering HIV-positive children for adoption, in part because it already offers many children in adoption.
Reports that there are five-year waiting lists for Chinese infants, and therefore Canadians are increasingly looking to African countries for adoption. There were 100 in 2007, mostly from Ethiopia. Potential pitfalls include fraud, child-trafficking, potential for problems as more agencies move in, and inadequate agency supervision. Tells stories of Canadian families that were defrauded or faced with other difficulties. "Is it competitive? Yeah, it's competitive," says Cheryl Carter-Shotts, whose agency works in Ethiopia. "Families want babies and toddlers. Who's going to come up with babies and toddlers? And how much are you going to charge? Are you soliciting pregnant girls?"
“Ethiopian Adoption Ban Leaves Children in Limbo,” Mark Tighe, October 21, 2007, The Sunday Times.
“Ethiopia is the tenth most popular country for Irish people adopting from abroad with more than 50 children settled with families in Ireland over the past 10 years. The Adoption Board, however, suspended all adoptions from Ethiopia and Rwanda on October 10 on advice from the attorney-general's office,” citing adoption laws that were “not compatible” with Irish laws. This leaves five families who were ready to bring Ethiopian children home in legal limbo.
As other countries have closed their doors to Western adoption, Ethiopia’s international adoption system has become popular—in part because it has involved “model” centers that care for orphaned children and children in need; Western investment in child welfare; and adoptive parents’ ability to meet their new children’s birth families. But there have been very rapid increases in the numbers of agencies working in Ethiopia and the numbers of children adopted from there, leading to concerns that there will soon be problems.
Reports that millions of African orphans need homes. Quotes Montegbosh Asmare about her foster home; Cheryl Carter-Shotts, who directs the agency, Americans for African Adoptions; and others about why most African countries do not allow adoption. Carter-Shotts notes that, since Angelina Jolie’s adoption, some “unscrupulous agents” are “buying” children from illiterate village women and local officials are demanding bribes. Concludes that adoptions don’t fix the underlying problem, which is that “the government in Ethiopia is left struggling to meet the needs of millions of children.”
Reports on the destitution and illness that are ravaging the country and its children’s welfare, and the rising number of international adoptions. “Organisations such as Unique, the United Nations’ children’s agency, are concerned that the Ethiopian Government does not have the staff or resources to monitor orphanages to ensure that children are cared for and safe from abuse. They also suspect that many children are being trafficked to work in weaving factories or as servants, and some are being smuggled out of the country.” Notes that Westerners prefer healthy babies, and the sick or older children are not taken.
Western adoption from Ethiopia has increased sharply. Nearly 40 agencies handle adoptions. Claims an estimated 5 million orphans in Ethiopia, half orphaned by AIDS. Briefly discusses the international adoption regulations for the nation and the possibility of trafficking.
Reports that there are five million orphans in Ethiopia—orphaned by AIDS, TB, other illnesses, and destitution. Some 1,400 children were adopted abroad last year, more than double those of the previous year. “Bulti Gutema, who heads the country's adoption authority, says adoption of orphans poses many moral quandaries to his government….‘We would prefer these children to remain in Ethiopia because it is their country,’ he says. ‘Adoption is the last resort because it doesn't help alleviate poverty in Ethiopia.’” But caring for orphans costs $115 million/month and the country's health budget is only $140 million annually. Most children go to France, Australia, the US, or Ireland.
Ethiopia, a country of 70 million, has more than 5 million orphans, their parents lost to famine, disease, war, AIDS, and poverty. Caring for the orphans costs $115 million/month in a country whose annual health budget is only $140 million. To lessen this burden, Ethiopia has made adoption easier. In 2003 a record 1,400 children were adopted abroad, more than double the number in the previous year. “‘We want people to invest in Ethiopia rather than take our children,’ said Dr. Bulti Gutema, who heads the government’s adoption authority. However, ‘we can’t afford to look after every orphan,’ he said, sitting in a decrepit government office that exemplifies Ethiopia’s standing as the world’s third-poorest nation, with almost half the population living on less than a dollar a day. ‘Adoption is the last resort because it doesn’t help alleviate poverty in Ethiopia,’ he said.” Reports that Western agencies charge fees of around $20,000 per child, about half that charged in other countries.
Examines how the community impact of AIDS, other illnesses, and destitution have had devastating effects on Ethiopian children’s welfare. Profiles Layla House and Enat House, model children’s homes, with intimate portraits of the children and their lives, including those adopted to the US. Says that adoptive families “are desperately sought.” Closes with her personal account of adopting a five-year-old girl from Ethiopia, both of whose parents had died, into her large family.