15 February 2018

Ethiopia: Why Parliament Bans Adoption of Children By Foreigners

Photo: Edward Parsons/IRIN
(file photo)

According to a recent report by BBC, Ethiopia was among the biggest source countries for international adoptions by US citizens, accounting for about 20 per cent of the total. The most prominent of the adoption cases is that of Zahara Marley, who were adopted by the most famous Hollywood celebrities, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, back in 2005. Zahara's maternal grandmother once stated that Zahara was so "very fortunate" to have been adopted by Jolie.

But this has not always been the case. For instance, there is also this sad story of a teenage Ethiopian girl who was adopted by an American couple. Larry and Carri Williams of Washington state, starved and beat Hana Williams until she died in the backyard of their home in May 2011.

The couple was also convicted of first-degree assault of a younger boy they had adopted from Ethiopia. Hana's paperwork when she was adopted in 2008 indicated she would have been about 13 years old at the time of her death, according to reports at the time.

That is why, since 2013, the issue of Ethiopian children being adopted by foreigners have become a major issue of discussion. Some groups have been arguing that orphans and other vulnerable children should be cared for through locally available support mechanisms in order to protect them from unintended consequences.

Adoption has several negative consequences on the children. The children may suffer from identity crisis and problems related to psychological development and social relations. There are also cases of abuse and neglect abroad as the above mentioned case. _

Sadly, some orphanages in the country and agencies that facilitate adoption of children by foreigners have been engaged in various misconducts. Even at some point, the adoption process faced serious questions with rights groups saying that it was prone to abuse by human traffickers who saw it as lucrative market.

Two years ago, Denmark stopped the adoption of children from Ethiopia, stating Ethiopian adoption agencies often gave "inconsistent information" on the origins of children within the system, which could lead to trafficking cases.

Reports indicate that more than 15,000 Ethiopian children have been adopted in the US since 1999. Others were also taken to European countries such as Spain, France and Italy. Recent data shockingly revealed that the whereabouts of some 7,000 Ethiopians who are adopted by foreigners is not known.

Recently, Ethiopia has endorsed a proclamation that bans adoption of children by foreigners. Consequently, the endorsement was met with two opposing views. Some welcome it as a good step to protect the human rights of the children while others question what will happen to the thousands of orphans and vulnerable children who can no longer be adopted.

Legal affairs Directorate Director at the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Dereje Tegeyebelu recently told the Amharic Daily Addis Zemen that the main objective of the proclamation is to protect the safety of the children. Besides, it will also give the children a chance to grow up in their own culture and become aware of one's own identity.

Yet, on the other hand, during the recently held meeting, officials of various state children and women affairs bureaus stated that some agencies that are engaged in facilitating the children's adoption have complaints about the new proclamation. As the proclamation was passed while there are still children in their custody, they say, the lives of the children have been put at risk. They are also requesting the government to take guardianship over the children.

But in reality some of the children were adopted in exchange for money. According to the information the ministry had been receiving, foreigners who want to adopt children were required to pay from 30 to 35 thousand USD. But the government requires the agencies to pay up to only 25 birr for the services they get from public offices.

According to Dereje, as a lot of preparation was made to come up with the proclamation as a solution to the problem, it is not a sudden act or come about accidently with out a plan. And there is no prohibition on any children who want to support the children while they are here at home. Thus, though the agencies are claiming that the children are in danger, it is possible to facilitate means to support them here at home, he said.

However, it is difficult to tell agencies that do not have adequate income to continue to care for the children; he said adding, hence, it is necessary to discuss the issue with other orphanages to come up with solutions. As a lot of activities have been carried out nationally, it is possible to come up with a solution to the problem.

Birhanu Arega is a senior expert at the Women and Children's Affair Directorate at the Ministry of Education. He is also a children's safety board member. According to him, the complaints of the agency can be seen from two angles.

"If it is about making business from the adopted children, it is totally inappropriate and not acceptable," he stressed. "But if their concern is about making a living and an alternative, their concern would be appropriate.

As per state women and children affairs bureau officials, due attention should be given to the issue to prevent the danger on the children because of the stance held by the orphanages.

"This is because; in these institutions are sick children who were meant to be adopted previously, children who need special care and others that do not know their families. Hence, it is important to provide support as per the country's law to prevent any harm on the children," Birhanu added.

According to Dereje, the main purpose for the establishment of the orphanages was to ensure the safety and security of the children by exploring favorable conditions both in Ethiopia and abroad. Currently, 64 agencies that are engaged in adoption of children abroad are terminating their activities.

"From this one can presuppose that the agencies were first engaged in the adoption dealing not to protect the children but to pursue their own interests," said Dereje. "Thus, continuous assessments have to be made as they would continue to pursue their own interests next time and if they do so, they have to be charged with illegal child trafficking."

As to Birhanu, for children to grow up safely, it is necessary to make them grow up with their family if it is possible or within their community. If this not possible, it would be better if they grow up in an institution with the support of the local community. It is central to expand community based activities in this regard and open up various programs including those that incorporate the issues of the handicap.

It is to be recalled that Demitu Hamebisa, Minister of Women and Children have recently spoke to parliament that the adoption of children to foreign countries were not conducted as per legal procedures.

In the past ten years, brokers had been sending children abroad by deceiving their partners and by conspiring with others. Parents who do not know their children's whereabouts are still begging the ministry to find their whereabouts and statuses. As the necessary information about and address of the adopters are not properly documented, this makes the efforts to locate them very much difficult.

As to Birhanu, the solution is to create effective coordination among stakeholder as the issue may change its face in the future. It is mandatory to make strict follow up and assessment on the agencies even after the ban.

As it is not a good thing for the children to grow up in side an institution, as it creates identity, socio economic and political problems on them, it is salient to start the work at the grass root community level.

It is also decisive to convince stakeholders that are engaged in the issue to prioritize the safety of the children more than anything else and charity and children care activities, as to Birhanu.

Officials of the state bureaus advised that it would be better for the healthy children in the agencies to be supported by community based services. Thus it is better for the children to live their lives within communities or within institutions that provide them with special care.


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