Addis Ababa — As the number of African children adopted by people outside the continent reaches record levels, experts, activists, government officials and academics have called for the practice to be stemmed, warning that adoption was too often motivated by financial gain rather than the best interests of the children involved.
Between 2003 and 2011, for example, at least 41,000 African children were sent abroad for adoption from Africa, according to a study entitled Africa: The New Frontier for Inter-country Adoption by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF).
"Commercial interests have superseded altruism, turning children into commodities in the graying and increasingly amoral world of inter-country adoption," the ACPF study said.
In 2010 alone, it said, some 6,000 African children were involved in inter-country adoption, representing an almost threefold increase in just seven years. Global rates are at a 15-year low, the report said.
Participants at the fifth International Policy Conference on the African Child, held in Addis Ababa at the end of May, called for "a reversal of the current trend of resorting to inter-country adoption as an easy and convenient option for alternative care in Africa, and for giving absolute priority to enabling all children in Africa to remain with their families and their communities".
Inter-country adoption should only take place when "an alternative family environment cannot be found in the home country, and, in line with the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, is used as a last resort", the participants said in a joint declaration.
They also expressed concern that "sometimes children are being procured for adoption abroad through manipulation, falsification and other illicit means of securing financial gains" and that "in some instances there are both internal and external pressures put on families and governments to make their children available for inter-country adoption."
According to the ACPF study, the number of adoption cases from Africa has risen by almost 300 percent in the last eight years because of the suspension or limitation of international adoptions from traditional source countries. This has made host countries turn en masse to Africa to fill the need for adoptive children. The USA is the leading host country.
"Money determines not only the way these adoptions are carried out, but also the reasons for which many are initiated. Money does not just matter - it is a key factor that must be tackled if the human rights of African children are to be effectively protected vis-à-vis inter-country adoption," said another ACPF report, entitled Inter-country Adoption: An African Perspective.
The report noted that many orphanages in Africa have been set up to generate profit, receiving up to $30,000 per adopted child from prospective parents.
While the 1993 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption also says inter-country adoption should be a last resort, only 13 African states are party to the convention, and, aside from South Africa, they include none of the continent's five leading sources of adopted children (Ethiopia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Mali).
Experts at the Addis Ababa conference called on more African countries to harmonize existing national legislation with applicable international human rights instruments alongside a comprehensive child protection system.
"We have a lot of homework to do despite our recent progress in ensuring children's rights. But the problem is not an issue left to government alone and requires a collaborative effort of concerned bodies," said Bizunesh Taddesse, the Ethiopian minister of women, children and youth affairs.
Ethiopia was in 2010 ranked the second top origin country for inter-country adoptions after China. Other top 10 African countries in 2009 and 2010 were Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]