$63 million. A lot of money, right?
Hold that thought.
Adoption numbers from Ethiopia have declined in recent years, from 284 children adopted to the US in 2004, to a high of 2,511 in 2010, down to 1,567 in 2012. The number will likely be even lower for 2013.
About numbers: they are so important, and so difficult to fully understand. So easily manipulated.
For example, we hear a lot about Ethiopian orphans needing families. UNICEF has estimated that some 4.6 million children in Ethiopia have “lost one or both parents due to all causes.” The cause could be death, desertion, disappearance, remarriage–any cause.
UNICEF estimates further that, in Ethiopia, there are 670,000 children who have had both parents die due to any cause. You can see the UNICEF chart here. I am not minimizing the needs and heartache of any child, but there are not 5 million orphans in Ethiopia. That’s a UNICEF statistic, often used (though not by UNICEF) to justify international adoption. even the 670,000 figure does not mean that the child does not have a living, loving parent, or an extended family of some sort able to help raise the child.
Nonetheless, there are hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian children growing up in desperate straits. For a tiny percentage, international adoption may have been/may be appropriate and right. Here’s the math. Let’s say 670,000 children were potential candidates for adoption. Last year, 1567 children were adopted to the US. That’s 0.23% of the 670,000 children who are estimated to be orphans.
Yes. Twenty three hundredths of one percent.
What was the money involved in those adoptions? Let’s say $40,000 in adoption agency fees and adoption expenses, for 1,567 adoptions. That means $62,680,000. Roughly $63 million.
63 Million Dollars for the adoption of 1,567 Ethiopian children by US citizens. Last year alone.
That, to me, is a jaw-dropping amount of money.
The money went primarily to adoption agencies. Some went for fees and expenses in Ethiopia. The money did not go substantively to helping fewer children need adoption. It did not go, for one example, toward post-adoption resources and counseling for first parents.
That sum does not necessarily include money that was spent by adoptive parents for expenses in country, and thus into the Ethiopian economy: translators, drivers, guest houses, food, taxis, tour guides, souvenirs. I have no doubts that amount is in the millions as well.
And, of course, many of the families that adopted from Ethiopia applied for and received the US government-funded adoption tax credit: probably millions of dollars there also, given the 14,000 Ethiopian to US adoptions that have taken place since 1999. Many of the expenses above (travel, meals, hotels) were reimbursed by the US government to adoptive parents. (My views about the adoption tax credit are here.)
I am struggling greatly with the amount of money that is associated with Ethiopian adoption, and how it is used. It’s a hugely complex, emotional, and challenging topic. I will be writing a Part Two (maybe Three) soon, so please don’t think I’ve covered even a small part of this heartbreaking, complicated issue.
Here are a few thoughts, and each one needs far more discussion:
- Surely we can do better to help children and families in need.
- Adoption is supposed to find families for children, not children for families.
- Huge cultural gaps exist between the western understanding of the permanence of adoption versus the Ethiopian understanding of the nature of adoption. By western, I mean the US, Canada, and western Europe, the main so-called “receiving” places of Ethiopian children. I don’t include Australia because they ended adoptions from Ethiopia in June 2013. You can read a recent article about that decision here.
- International adoption is not the answer to poverty. Poverty in itself should not be a reason for adoption.
- “Ending adoption” does not equate to “children in need will now have loving, safe families.”
- “International adoption” does not equate to “trafficking,” except when it does, which has been much too often.
- “International adoption” does not equate to “abuse/death of children,” except when it does, and one time is too many.
- I recognize that it’s a lot more appealing (from a marketing and/or fundraising perspective) to adopt a child than to financially assist an Ethiopian family preservation organization.
- Family preservation services exist, and they deserve and need our assistance. In Uganda, a great model is ReuniteUganda. Three examples for family preservation in Ethiopia are AHope for Ethiopia, Selamta and Bring Love In.
- Many adoptive families are involved in incredibly beneficial programs in Ethiopia that are preventing or have the potential to prevent children from needing adoption: clean water, literacy, schools, HIV meds, tuition for midwives, micro loans, and more. I doubt that many of these programs and the help they provide would exist if it were not for children having been adopted from Ethiopia.
- Adult Ethiopian adoptees all around the world can (and I would argue, ought to) play a pivotal role in the determination of next steps in Ethiopian adoption policy. They can tell their stories in a most powerful way, about what they have lost and what they have gained.
- Ethiopian first/birth families deserve to be heard, and have a place at the table in these and all discussions about Ethiopian adoption policy.
$63 million in 2013. What is possible in the (western) new year of 2014?