Ethiopian Adoptions To Continue: ETV, First Mothers, and Small Steps

Word on the Internet is that Ethiopian adoptions will continue. I’ve seen it on Facebook groups, at least one adoption agency site, and elsewhere. Among other sources is the One Child Campaign which posted this yesterday on their Facebook page:

“Earlier today Minister Zenebu, along with other high level MOWCYA officials, met with agency network representatives. In this meeting it was clearly expressed by Minister Zenebu that she does not plan to work to stop adoptions, but desires to focus on eliminating bad practice and continue to invest in good practice of Ethiopia adoptions. She reiterated that neither MOWCYA nor the Ethiopian Government plan to shut down adoptions within Ethiopia, and went on to encourage agencies to continue their work as normal.”

(MOWCYA is the Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs. Zenebu Tadesse is the Minister of MOWCYA.)

Encouraging adoption agencies to continue their work “as normal” could be a mixed signal, in the face of years of concerns about fraud and corruption. I’ve no doubts everyone involved around the world supports the need to eliminate bad practices and uphold ethical practices with transparency and integrity. What that exactly looks like continues to be the subject of much discussion, but I’d argue it should, at a minimum, include the insights and experiences of birth families and of adult adoptees. 

Recently, an Ethiopian government-sponsored TV show aired in Ethiopia, almost exactly at the time the government officials announced that Ethiopian adoptions might end. (You can read my post about the announcement here.)

The ETV show talked about children stolen from mothers in the name of adoption, about an Ethiopian child who died at the hands of her adoptive parents, and about (Ethiopian-born, adopted to Sweden, world-class chef) Marcus Samulesson’s birth family–though that last story has not been confirmed as best I know.


The show aired in late December, and I would guess that it was intended to influence the Ethiopian people in their attitudes about intercountry adoption.

You can watch the December 2013 YouTube video here.The show is in Amharic.

. The highlights:

  • Many government officials speak about the huge concerns that many Ethiopians have about international adoption.
  • There are photos of and information about Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams, whose US adoptive parents were convicted in October 2013 of abusing and killing her. (I’ve posted at length about Hana and the trial; you can read more here.)
  • There are brief Interviews with and film of American adoptive parents in adoption court proceedings, and commentary about the costs of adoption ($20,000 and more).
  • Three stories are featured about Ethiopian mothers who lost their children to adoption, including a woman who says she is the mother of renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson. Again, that’s not been proven as far as I know.

The birth mothers’ stories are heartbreaking: one who says her son was taken to an orphanage, and then adopted to France, while she was in the hospital, and one whose children ended up fraudulently in America for adoption. The mother says the US agency director said that she (the director) was doing the mother a favor by placing the children for adoption. And then there is Marcus Samulesson’s (unverified) family–mother. siblings, more. Samuelsson’s Facebook page (in the “Recent Posts by Others” section) includes some inquiries, it seems, from Ethiopians asking him about it.

One mother on the show says: “I haven’t slept in years.”


The ETV show was seen by thousands (millions?) of Ethiopians, is available on YouTube, and adds to the complicated, emotional, economic, and political maelström of adoption. What is the reality of best practice, and what is not? How do we best help children in need? How do we keep families together?

The voices of birth families need to be heard and respected, as do the voices of adult Ethiopian adoptees. I hope all the adoption agencies are listening to them as well, especially if they are “continuing work as normal.”

I’ve been talking with a lot of people about the possibilities for better connections between birth families and adoptive families–which means, of course, for the children, in as many positive ways as possible. I’ve been talking with a lot of people about the gathering of the stories of first mothers. I wrote about all this in my post “First Families Project,” just over a month ago, and will be updating soon. There is some powerful energy happening, and some wonderful possibilities, even amidst the sorrow, anger, and mistrust. Small steps. Huge thanks to those who have offered their stories, their energy, their compassion, and their support, on behalf of vulnerable children and families.