"ADOPTION is becoming the new export industry for our country. Experts I have spoken with are of the opinion that it might overtake coffee as major export industry..."
Those were the words of Ellene Moria, who runs a women's programme on a local radio station in Ethiopia. They were laden with acrimonious emotion which many historians and social commentators never captured the historic trade in human beings during slave trade with.
Hence, how can one phantom the idea behind some of the adverts put up by the various adoption agencies in Ethiopia on their web sites? Without meaning to say it, this calls back memories of slave trade. Take for instance one of the adverts I saw on one of the sites read thus:
"Agernesh, a lively girl with a slender build and a ready smile, spent her first eight years in a small rural village in the south of Ethiopia...There are sibling groups as well as single children. The majority of the youngsters are between five and seven years of age. All are basically healthy; both physically and emotionally...They learn Western table manners and how to eat with a knife and fork... The children have chores and learn that in American families they will be expected to help in the kitchen, with cleaning and laundry."
However the manner which children are adopted in Ethiopia goes beyond trade in human being or human trafficking. It all depends on how close or far you hold the mirror to the society. You either check out the socio-economic, psychological and political implications of this to both the individuals and government or you simply hang on to the trade issue.
It is very rare to see a mother in African society give up her child for adoption even in the face of famine. This can't be said for Ethiopia today. It is still not clear if the mothers of the children given up for adoptions ever get paid. Considering the way Ethiopian government and its various adoption agencies handle the deal, and the fact that some child welfare groups in the country claim that out of a population of about 70 million people, there are more than five million orphans who have lost their parents to famine, war and HIV/AIDS.
In consistence with this, a recent UNICEF report state that more than 4.5 million of Ethiopia's children are orphaned due to poverty and illness. This means that more than one child in 10 is an orphan. Additionally, the maternal mortality rate for pregnant women is very high -- one in 14 women will die in childbirth.
More so, there are cases of women who give up their children for adoption due to their inability to cater for them in the face of parlous economic hardship in the country. Thus, necessitating the creation of adoption programmes by the government in conjunction with the various motherless homes in the country, since government alone cannot cater for the orphans. In a country that has an annual health budget of 140 million U.S. dollars; a small amount of money when compared to a staggering 115 million US dollars estimated for the up-keep of the orphans in a MONTH.
Perhaps, as a palliative measure to cushion the socio-economic effect of this malaise in the country, government streamlined the process to make foreign adoption of Ethiopian children to Western families easier. Thereby, resulting to the sharp increase in the number of foreign adoption recorded in 2003. The 1400 children taken on adoption by U.S. families doubled the 2002 figure.
With some U.S. families willing to pay upwards of 25,000 US dollars to adopt an Ethiopian child, the trade in children is certainly more lucrative than coffee farming. The money realised from this trade hardly gets out of the coffers of both the government and various adoption agencies/motherless homes- since most of the kids are said to be orphans. This business intrigues undoubtedly could be said to have accounted for the tears in Ellene Moria's voice when she uttered those words quoted above.
There is no doubt that famine and the desire to eke out a living and the sustenance of government activities in Ethiopia have endangered the lives of most Ethiopian children. This has also lead to the traumatization of women and mothers who are more often than not as young as the babies they make.
A recent Oprah Winfrey show which centered on the plight of Ethiopian women captured the predicaments of young girls or should I rather say children of age nine to 14 subjected to early pregnancy. The show revealed some of the health implications of this on the young mothers or better still child mothers. Many of whom had contracted VVF.
In a country that a hundred dollars could do or buy so much for both an individual and family, how many poor families wouldn't give up their babies for adoption in the hope of getting 25,000 U.S. dollars that some of these babies are being offered up for by adoption agencies to foreigners?
And when this happens, these child mothers are not only ostracized and put away in shackles sometimes, in rooms but are sometimes thrown into the forest at the mercy of hyenas. In order to avoid the terrible stench that oozes out of them. More so, some of these child mothers are said to not only end up with still births, but also with dislocated hips. As a result of the often prolonged period of labour which according to the show, sometimes stretch from nine to 12 days.
With this horrific pictures and stories, I wondered what the Ethiopian government and its various adoption agencies are doing about it. Could it be that they are unaware of the large number of cases of teenage pregnancy and death recorded every day? Why should a government or parent look on while their children are turned into mothers at the tender age of nine? Does this account for the colossal figure of over five million orphans in Ethiopia? Just like the tilling of land with all mechanical means available for a bumper harvest of coffee for foreign exchange, young girls or better still, children seem to have been subjected to the ordeal of producing more babies for agencies who choose to ignore this inhuman activities against Ethiopian children because of the lucrative nature of foreign adoption of babies by some U.S. families who patronize the adoption deal.
Is it even plausible to say that the enormous proceeds from adoption could be responsible for the plight of women and children in Ethiopia? In a country that a hundred dollars could do or buy so much for both an individual and family, how many poor families wouldn't give up their babies for adoption in the hope of getting 25,000 U.S. dollars that some of these babies are being offered up for by adoption agencies to foreigners? Do these motherless home/ adoption agencies just in the veneer of love and charity revive these young girls infested with VVF for further exploitation? There is just so much going on there with little or no answers coming forth.
However despicable this transaction might be, and in my effort to be objective as I can be in my anger and tears; check out the other side of the bargain before criticizing the individuals or government agencies involved in the deal. How can you describe an issue so nebulous in the minds of the persons who initiated it in the first place? Though the perpetrators of this trade are not faceless, yet criticism against them is hard to come by. Could there be some form of justification for their action, considering the fact that those children may not have had any good life to look forward to in Ethiopia compared to what awaits them in U.S.?
Apart from this, how can the government cater for such great number of children with the little resources at its disposal? How can young mothers cope with the temptation of giving away their children in the face of the untold hardship in the land?
What can one say about this intriguing situation of an encounter between Fari, an Ethiopian lady and a tourist captured on page 20 of April 8- 14, 2006 edition of The 'Weekly Trust Newspaper'? Fari says her husband died two years ago, leaving her small family to eke out an existence on the street. She further lamented lugubriously, "My child needs something better in life. Something I cannot give him." When she noticed the joy and gratitude in her son's eyes when he received a red plastic toy a tourist gave him. Fari's lamentation should not totally be seen as a mother's failure. Perhaps, a mother trapped, hard up in a difficult circumstance which numerous Ethiopian civil wars and maladministration have caused over time.
Another delicate issue is how to place the action of some American families who patronize this venture. Especially when some of them claimed to have done it out of sympathy and charity for the helpless and hopeless children, whose plights they learnt about through adverts that project the children as being in dire need of parental care and up keep?
Ugboaja is an admissions counselor in American University of Nigeria - AUN, Yola.