Ethiopia Moves to Officially End International Adoption

Several Ethiopian news sources have reported that the Ethiopian Parliament is considering a new draft bill amending current law to end the adoption of Ethiopian children by foreigners. What are the reasons? No doubt there are many. Ezega news reported that the “inability by biological parents to trace their children and adoptees being denied the chance to communicate with their biological parents have been major issues that have been echoed in parliament.”

Those two reasons—Ethiopian parents being unable to learn anything about their children post-adoption, and adoptees being unable (due to adoptive parents’ refusal?) to contact their Ethiopian parents—exemplify deceitful practices by adoption facilitators who promised Ethiopian parents they would have contact with their children after adoption, though there was no guarantee of that since adoption permanently severs ties legally. The reasons also represent lost opportunities for adopted children (who grow up, and who I hope will learn their truths) to know their Ethiopian parents, even as they were raised by adoptive parents in the United States and elsewhere.

According to U.S. Department of State statistics, over 15.000 children were adopted from Ethiopia to the U.S. between 1999 and 2016, and of course thousands of others to Canada, Europe, and Australia. About 50% were three years old or younger at the time of adoption. In 1994, when my twin daughters arrived at six years old, there were 54 other Ethiopian children adopted to America. Adoption from Ethiopia has been fraught for years with so much: the murder of adoptee Hana Williams, the federal indictment of the adoption agency International Adoption Guides for fraud and corruption, and at least two temporary suspensions of adoptions by Ethiopia. At least three Ethiopian adoptees, from Netherlands and Denmark, annulled their adoptions. Many families discovered that the children they adopted were not orphans at all, but children who had clear and vivid memories of their mothers and families. Many families traveling back to Ethiopia with their adopted children encountered Ethiopian mothers desperately searching for their children. Adult adoptees have traveled to Ethiopia in search of their original families and have sometimes found them, finding also that their Ethiopian families had been deceived into placing them for adoption. Some have been unable to locate their original families, despite great efforts to do so.

While there certainly have been new families formed for children who needed them, there have also been multiple scandals and heartaches.

The Ezaga article notes that “due to problems especially with foreign adopters, over the past few years the issue of adoption has been stirring heated debates among various members of the community, including MPs (Members of Parliament).”

Ethiopian officials have been watching closely what has happened to the children adopted from Ethiopia. So have Ethiopians in the diaspora, as well as those in cafes in Addis, or in Hawassa, Shashemene, Gambela, and elsewhere.

There are many reasons for ending adoptions, especially those adoptions that resembled trafficking much more than any ideal of child welfare. Maybe the precise reasons don’t even matter, though I am not dismissing the tragedies of families deceived and the losses of children who were never orphans.

That said, what also matters now is what happens to the children who genuinely need families, and especially those who need medical care that is not available or not provided in Ethiopia.

Ending adoption does not mean that children don’t still need help, safety, and families. I often wonder about the children in Russia after Putin ended adoptions to the US, and in Guatemala after adoptions ended there. The needs of the children remain as extensive as ever.

So yes, let’s hope that domestic in country adoption will be a priority. Let’s hope that family preservation will flourish, and that there will not be more children dying, or begging in the streets, or suffering in isolation. As the Ethiopian officials have watched adoptive families, let’s hope the world watches and helps them to care for Ethiopian children. Perhaps Ethiopia will establish adoption programs for older children and for children with special needs, rather than ending all adoptions. Perhaps efforts like this campaign to help an Ethiopian child with a rare, painful disease, difficult to treat in Ethiopia, will gain more support–it’s a great example of family preservation. Please help if you can.

Sofoniyas and his mother

 

Let’s hope that the community of adoptive parents will rise up. In so many ways, we should be the ones leading the charge to make sure that, whenever possible, children can grow up not adopted but with their original families, and within their original cultures. No more saviorism or rescuing. It’s time for us to step up and support our children’s brothers and sisters.

 

 

Let’s hope adult adoptees continue to connect with Ethiopia, and with their Ethiopian families, with the support of their adoptive families. Let’s hope that the Ethiopian families who are searching for their children, for the knowledge that their children are alive, will be able to gain information, and maybe someday, peace.

Let’s hope this is a wake up call for anyone involved with adoption about the role of money and the vulnerability of children.

And let’s do a lot more than just hope. In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting information about ways to sponsor children and to promote family preservation, for far less than the cost of even one international adoption. It’s time.

 

 

 

 

 

Runner’s World on Gabe Proctor: Ethiopian Adoptee, Championship Runner, Suicide

Gabe Proctor with his siblings Joanna and Samuel, in 2000 and in 2013

 

Gabe Proctor lived a short, loving, and complex life. Adopted from Ethiopia around age 10 after his mother died, he grew up in Vermont, went to college in Kansas and Colorado, became a championship runner, worked hard to support his family in Ethiopia, and died by suicide at this past May at age 27.

Sarah Lorge Butler has written a thoughtful profile of Gabe in Runner’s World: After Runner’s Suicide, Anguish and A Search for Answers. She spoke extensively with Gabe’s family, as well as his coaches and running partners. The sorrow and loss are palpable, as are the questions that can never be answered.

I am among those quoted in the article, and I have written many times about suicide and adoption. There are simply no clearcut answers. According to the Runner’s World article,  ” ‘In understanding mental health and adoption, researchers now think about a combination of risk factors,’ said Maria Kroupina, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Adoption itself is one risk factor. Others include prenatal stress to the child’s mother. Genetics, or family history of mental illness. Stress in early childhood, from scarcity of resources or abuse or neglect. The loss of a parent.

It’s a process for adopted children and the adults in their lives to navigate these issues from the past. ‘Children and young adults need ongoing help,’ she said. “No health care providers would put a child with asthma or a heart condition in a family and say, ‘Please figure it out.'”

Gabe’s family remembers him as a talented, thoughtful, loving son and brother. His coaches remember him as incredibly hard-working and determined to push himself to achieve his best.

From the article: “During his best year in 2014, he had the fifth-fastest half marathon time in the U.S., but his heart is what people remember. Proctor especially looked out for those who had trouble fitting in or seemed burdened in other ways.”

Like many adoptees, especially those adopted at older ages and with siblings, Gabe never forgot his Ethiopian connections. “Gabe made four trips to Ethiopia over the years, and as his running career progressed, he realized his talent could help his relatives in Ethiopia. As a professional, his singular goal was to use his running to support his family. Gabe had a shoe deal from Asics, and he lived simply, never owning a car, for example. Samuel says before Gabe’s death, his brother had built houses that his Ethiopian family could use for rental income.”

Gabe Proctor in Ethiopia, July 2006

I give credit to his adoptive parents, Caryl and Jim Proctor, for sharing their son’s story. They and others who loved Gabe urge “family and friends of people who are struggling with depression to confront it head on.” Jim Proctor “implores parents to pay attention: ‘Accept that the warning signs are warning signs,’ he said…’Don’t ignore it.'”

There are many resources available to help with suicide prevention; I have listed many of them in this post: Resources Around Trauma and Suicide in Adoption. Whether or not adoption is involved, we should all be aware of resources for depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. Yes, these are tough topics. And they need to see the light of day, because that’s the only way we can help each other.

‘Gabe was adamant about this,’ his younger brother, Samuel, said. ‘Always treat people the absolute best you can, because you don’t know what they’re dealing with.’

 

 

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7, is 800-273-8255. You can also text 741741, the crisis text line available 24/7, and text with a trained crisis counselor.

IAG Officials Sentenced

The three defendants from International Adoption Guides were sentenced yesterday, : Mary Mooney got 18 months in prison. James Harding got 12 months in prison. Alisa Bivens got probation. All had pled guilty to the charges of fraud, bribery, and corruption brought against them by the US Justice department; the crimes all involved Ethiopian adoptions. Many families, in the US and in Ethiopia, were harmed by IAG.

Correction/Update: The charge also involved adoptions from Kazakhstan. Mary Mooney was sentenced for accreditation fraud for Kazakhstan. Harding and Bivens were sentenced of conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with Ethiopian adoptions.

In addition, the three defendants have been ordered to pay restitution. Mooney was ordered to pay $223,946.04 to victims who adopted from Kazakhstan. Harding was ordered to pay $301,224.25, and Bivens $31,800.00, presumably to victims of the Ethiopian fraud. The court will be contacting the victims individually with the restitution calculations.

I do not know if any Ethiopian parents are included as victims.

It is unclear when Mooney and Harding will begin their prison terms.

Here is the press release from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the sentencing: “Founder, CEO, and Employee of International Adoption Guides (IAG) Sentenced For Adoption Fraud Schemes.”

IAG Sentencing Rescheduled Yet Again

Update: The sentencing hearing for defendants James Harding, Alisa Bivens, and Mary Mooney has now been set for August 10, 2017, 10:00am, Courtroom 2, the Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, SC,  before Judge David Norton.

 

 

To perhaps no one’s surprise, given the years this process has taken, the sentencing hearing for the three International Adoption Guides’ defendants, all of whom pled guilty about three years ago, has been rescheduled from July 13 to Thursday, August 17.

The sentencing hearing for Mary Mooney is now scheduled at 10am, for Alisa Bivens at 10:30am, and for James Harding at 11am. The hearings will take place in Courtroom 2, at the Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC, before Judge David Norton.

I have no idea why the sentencing has been rescheduled. It could be for the judge, for the probation officer, for the defendants, for the lawyers. I have been told that these delays are not unusual when it comes to sentencing for federal crimes.

Here’s hoping for justice.

 




 

An Academic Analysis of Ethiopian Illegal Adoptions: A Sobering Roadmap

“Children for Families: An Ethnography of Illegal Intercountry Adoption From Ethiopia,” an article by Daniel Hailu, Ph.D., in Adoption Quarterly, provides a stunningly clear road map of how illegal adoptions have occurred in Ethiopia. His research corroborates many anecdotal experiences, discusses the impact of Ethiopian sociocultural views, and offers suggestions for reform.

The issue of illegal adoptions from Ethiopia has been simmering for years. I don’t think anyone has statistics on how many adoptions have been legal or illegal. Families have shared stories on Facebook. Adult adoptees have learned, after search and reunion, that their adoptive parents were not told the truth about why adoption was needed. Birth/first families were deceived or coerced into placing their children in an orphanage. Blame can be focused on many people: adoption agencies, police officers, brokers, government workers, adoptive families, first/birth families, and almost anyone involved with adoption and fees.

Adoptions from Ethiopia have declined dramatically in recent years. In May of this year, the Ethiopian government suspended adoptions, though it appears that children who were in the legal custody of their adoptive parents have been allowed to leave Ethiopia. I posted recently about the upcoming sentencing hearing of three International Adoption Guides’ officials, who have pled guilty to charges involving fraud and corruption in Ethiopia. A frequent source of debate on Facebook among adoptive families is whose adoption was fraudulent, whose adoption agency was checked out thoroughly, whose adoption was “clean.” Some prospective and new adoptive families discount the stories of families who have discovered lies and deceits in their children’s adoptions.

Dr. Hailu’s article describes how illegal and unethical adoptions occur. He interviewed 54 “informants,” people intimately engaged in adoptions in Ethiopia. He writes:

“At the root of illegal adoption are fabricated documentation and false testimonies that establish the legal basis for the subsequent adoption processes. Informants reported that these bases could not be established without the support and protection of local authorities, including some police officers.

An orphanage involved in illegal adoption perceived four major advantages in involving local authorities, as summarized by an informant:

First, local authorities facilitate identification of brokers from within the local community where orphanages have no other trusted link.

Second, officials in clandestine support brokers in recruiting children: The authorities identify children for potential adoption and also coax parents and guardians into giving their children away for adoption.

Third, the official expedites issuance of a letter of testimony that the orphanage needs from the kebele (neighborhood or ward) administration or the social court in order to take the case to the First Instance Court.

Fourth, the officials buffer the orphanage from any allegations that may be posed by any higher authority against recruiting an ineligible child.”

No one disputes, I hope, the role that money has played and continues to play in adoption. Between 1999 and 2016, some 15,300 Ethiopian children arrived in the U.S. Using a fee of $30,000 per adoption, some $459 million went from the U.S. to Ethiopian adoptions. Granted, not all of it went to Ethiopia. Still. Millions of dollars poured into Ethiopia from adoptive families, not just to the adoption agencies, but also to the orphanages, and to others working in the network to secure children for adoption.

Here is one matter-of-fact and chilling quote:

“The following description of a country representative of an adoption agency regarding the relationship between adoption agencies and orphanages is shared by several other informants in the industry:

‘Take my case as an example. I have entered adoption agreement worth millions. Neither UNICEF nor any government subsidizes me. Rather I get the money from adopting families. They expect me to give them babies. My boss expects babies. So, I expect the babies from the orphanages to whom I agreed to give part of the millions. It is a clean supply and demand relationship that exists among adopting families, adoption agencies, and orphanages. Essentially, we are providing children for families rather than finding families for children without parental care.’ ”

And how would country representatives or brokers convince families to place their babies and children in the orphanages, and thus for adoption?

That method, according to Dr. Hailu’s article, is also matter-of-fact and chilling.

“Three techniques were identified that brokers applied to coax parents and guardians into voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. The first was to appeal to the natural wish of parents for the future well-being of their children.

An informant explained:

As a first strategy, “Brokers would convince parents/guardians that it was better for the child to grow under better care than suffer with them: They promise that the child would be sent to [a] good school, eat well, [and] wear nice clothes and would generally live comfortable life. The brokers also give them the false promise that they would get to see the child once in a while whether the child is adopted locally or internationally.”

These promises have generally proven false, of course. Many adoptive parents and adopted persons have encountered Ethiopian birth parents who beg them to find out about the children they lost to adoption and have never heard from, despite the “promises” they were given. One important resource is Beteseb Felega—Ethiopian Adoption Connection, which has reunited many adoptees with their Ethiopian parents. Whether the adoptive parents had made the promise or not, many Ethiopian parents were told there would be contact. I’ve heard of adoptive parents finding out that the Ethiopian parents hoped to know if their children were alive and well—and the adoptive parents refused to respond. I hope they can face their adopted children and tell them this someday, as the children will grow up and likely find out their truths.

The second strategy of brokers to acquire children is to draw the attention of parents or guardians to their poverty and entice them with a promise of economic gain that they would potentially accrue by giving their child away for eventual adoption.

Another informant explained:

“The broker calls the attention of guardians to the financial assistance and visits that some guardians who have previously given away their children may have obtained from adopting families. There may be many such stories known to the people that brokers use for their purpose. For example, adopt[ive] parents of a child had sent money to the biological parents in our area, who used it to open their own beauty salon. Some guardians have reported to have come to the orphanage for the purpose of giving their bank account number to the adopting family in anticipation of transfers.”

The issue of how, whether, and how much adoptive families contribute to the financial support of their children’s Ethiopian families is a hot button topic. Some people feel it encourages other Ethiopian families to place their children for adoption, hoping to get a financial return, a concern borne out by Dr. Hailu’s article. Other parents feel it is their ethical right and responsibility to send their child’s siblings to school, or to buy a goat, or to wire money on a regular basis. It’s complicated. There is no question there has been an impact, in any case. I hope there will be more studies done, by the Ethiopian government or by academics, on the financial contributions to birth/first families.

In the third strategy, the broker capitalizes on the socially constructed prestige that could be accrued out of having a child living abroad.

“A related enticement is the social prestige that can be derived out of forging familial linkage with a ferenji (i.e., a white person). Although guardians are the main targets, these coaxing rhetorics have a stronger influence on older siblings of the child being prepared for adoption, who consider this a special opportunity presented to their younger siblings. This is due to increasing globalization that is creating an image of opportunities and affluence that may be available in the freng hager (i.e., the country of white people).

Consequently, in addition to persuasion by brokers, siblings who are too old to be adopted put pressure on their parents to place their younger siblings in the hope that the above reported social and economic benefit may eventually trickle down to them as well.”

Many adoptive parents have been told their children were abandoned. Dr. Hailu’s informants describe how the abandonment is staged.

“Staged abandoning of a child takes the form of a play in the theater. The play is written and directed by the broker. He also casts the characters and assigns them roles. In this drama the parents/guardians are coaxed into leaving the child at a predetermined place and time that is out of public view.

Soon after the child is seemingly abandoned, an assigned person reports the case to a predetermined police officer. The police officer who is ready to take on his role goes to the site and takes the child to the police station where all necessary records are made. The police officer then takes the child to the temporary custody of the orphanage on whose behalf the broker has directed the drama. The case is then taken to the First Instance Court.

Abandoned children pose much less procedural and legal challenges for orphanages. To begin with, the strategy is, informants reported, generally applied with infants who had not yet developed verbal capacities lest the child leak information regarding his or her guardians or the staged abandoning.”

While there is much information in this article to process, some of which is familiar to many, some of which will be eye-opening and jaw-dropping, Dr. Hailu also offers some solutions.

A referral system could enable unparented children to benefit from NGO services, and hence avoid institutional care and intercountry adoption. Hailu writes that “In Ethiopia, there already exist thousands of NGOs that provide community-based services to children. For example, 275 NGOs that are operational in Addis Ababa in 2013 had implemented more than 291 child-focused projects investing Birr 703, 641, 865 (Hailu, 2013). But there is currently no referral system to connect the children in need to the services that could be provided.”

Dr. Hailu also writes that “Informants reported that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, when making decisions based on the recommendations of its regional counterparts, generally does not undertake an independent investigation about the child’s social economic status. This is partly because it lacks the institutional capacity to travel to the child’s locality of origin to conduct the investigation, and partly because regional governments could construe the attempt at independent investigation by the federal government as interfering in their autonomy.”

I believe Dr. Hailu is suggesting here that independent investigations by MOWA, if feasible and done with transparency, could provide oversight and confirmation of accuracy of reports from the regional governments.

Changing sociocultural attitudes about adoption in Ethiopia could also, Dr. Hailu suggests, help to minimize illegal adoptions.

In testifying that a child is an orphan or abandoned, “witnesses see their false testimony as an act of benevolence, or even socially required action, to both the child and family. If they refuse to falsely testify, they could be regarded as miqegna (literally means one who does not wish the good of others), with potential negative social repercussions. Therefore, transforming the cultural and social-psychological allure within local communities is a critical strategy to minimizing illegal intercountry adoption.

This may involve preventive interventions of systematic and sustained public education regarding child rights, the adverse impacts of institutional care and intercountry adoption on children, and legal adoption processes. It also requires protective interventions of strict legal enforcement against participation in illegal intercountry adoption.”

In terms of the financial incentives inherent in international adoption, Dr. Hailu writes that “criminalizing direct adoption-related transactions between adoption agencies and orphanages” could be effective. “This will require setting up a centralized agency under a relevant ministry managed by a public/private partnership. The agency may be part of a national social welfare system that may be mandated to undertake individualized assessment of each unparented child and refer the child to various alternative care options including intercountry adoption.

As part of the welfare system, institutional care providers may be given subcontracts or grants by the centralized agency (and not by adoption agencies) to provide institutional foster care until a better placement is found for the child. Measures to ensure accountability and transparency in the operations of the agency need to be put in place in order to prevent officers of the agency from establishing corrupt relationships with adoption agencies and orphanages.”

There are many possible ways to curb or perhaps end fraud in adoptions from Ethiopia. They require diligence, funding, infrastructure, marketing, training, and sustainable capacity. I know many people and organizations argue that ending international adoptions is the only way to end the fraud and corruption. I know others who say that adoptions should continue only for children with special needs who cannot get appropriate (life-saving) care in Ethiopia. Others argue that adoptions, not life in abject poverty in an orphanage, would be best.

I’d argue that family preservation, orphan prevention, and in-country adoption are goals that everyone who cares about Ethiopian children should prioritize. I’ve written about the many ways to help children in Ethiopia: If Adoptions Decline, What Happens to the Children?

I hope Dr. Hailu’s article, which is available here (a paywall), will be widely read by anyone connected with Ethiopian adoptions, or who has an interest in child welfare. Although I was familiar with much of this information anecdotally, it is quite powerful to see it set in academic terms.

Ultimately, of course, it is Ethiopia’s decision to decide how to end fraud in Ethiopian adoptions, and how to make enact policies that best help children. I believe there are many in the adoption community who are watching the next steps carefully, and who are willing to help. I hope that, in addition to the usual government workers or international lawyers or lobbying groups, Ethiopian adoptees and birth/first families play a vibrant role in any discussions.

Sentencing Date (Finally) Set For International Adoption Guides’ Ethiopian Adoption Fraud Case

 

Update: The hearings have been delayed yet again until August 17.

 

At long last, the sentencing hearing will be held on July 13, 2017, for the three International Adoption Guides’ defendants, all of whom pled guilty August 29, 2016, to fraud and corruption in their Ethiopian adoption program.

 

The sentencing hearing for IAG executive director Mary Moore Mooney is scheduled for 1:30pm in Courtroom  2, J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, 83 Meeting St, Charleston, South Carolina, before Judge David Norton.

 

The sentencing hearing for James Harding and Alisa Bivens is scheduled for 2:00pm, same place, same judge, as for Harding and Bivens.

 

I’ve written about the case multiple times since the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the three defendants as well as an Ethiopian IAG employee (who apparently remains in Ethiopia) in February 2014. The Justice Department had investigated the cases for years before the indictment, and the actual incidents of unconscionable fraud, bribery, and corruption had occurred years before that.

 

Child in Ethiopia, 2014. © Maureen McCauley Evans

The victims of these crimes–children and families in the U.S. and in Ethiopia–have been immeasurably harmed by the actions of the IAG staff. Whether the conviction and sentencing will have any impact on adoption agencies, on adoption policies, or on the fate of future adoptions from Ethiopia remains to be seen. It’s been such a long road for the families and children. It is possible that the sentencing date could change, given the nature of the American justice system. I am hopeful, nonetheless, that the sentencing will bring some small measure of peace for the families.

 

The Case Number is 2012R01249, and the Docket Number is 14-CR-00054.

 

 

 

Ethiopian Adoptee Gabe Proctor, NCAA Champ, Died By Suicide

Earlier today, I wrote about the death by suicide of a deported Korean adoptee, Phillip Clay. I am deeply saddened to report another adoptee suicide.

Ethiopian adoptee Gabe Proctor was just 27 years old, and died by suicide this past Saturday at his adoptive parents’ home in Vermont. The obituary shared by his family said he had struggled with depression from which he could find no escape.

Originally from Mekelle, Ethiopia, Gabe was adopted along with his to Ethiopian siblings in 2000. They grew up in Vermont. He graduated from Western State Colorado University, where he was a world-class distance runner. He was a professional runner in the marathon and half marathon.


A runner friend shared her memories about Gabe here.

Donations in honor of Gabe can be sent to Hope for Youth Ethiopia. The address and more information are available here. His funeral service will be held in Vermont on Friday, May 26.

How many more times can we hear about these deaths, and not work harder to learn about depression and suicide prevention, especially among adopted persons?

My small contribution is to post fairly often about this painful reality, to share information about the trauma of adoption, as well as to provide suicide prevention resources for individuals and families.

I hope that more adoption agencies, counselors, and therapists will take note of the role of depression, trauma, and suicide prevention as they relate to adoption.

Depression can be oppressive. It is very real. It is an illness which can affect people no matter their circumstances.

My deep condolences to Gabe Proctor’s friends and family. I cannot imagine their sorrow.

 

 

 

Update on Ethiopian Adoption Suspension: All Cases Will Be Denied

The Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) will resume processing of adoption cases, but will issue only denials, no matter where the adoptive parents are from or where they stage in the process.

That information was part of a U.S. State Department update today regarding the suspension of Ethiopian adoptions. State will continue to urge the Ethiopian government to allow processing of cases in the pipeline prior to the April 21 suspension. However, Ethiopian ministries are having meetings throughout May and have been unresponsive to requests to meet with State.

The full State Department update from today is available here.

I posted information about the April suspension here: Ethiopia Suspends Adoptions.

 

Today’s State Department Call About Suspension of Adoptions in Ethiopia

The U.S. State Department held an hour-long, public conference call today “to discuss the current suspension of intercountry adoptions in Ethiopia.”

IMG_5016

Ethiopia suspended adoptions to all countries as of April 21, 2017. I wrote about it here. The State Department officials on the call were clear that the Ethiopian government has not yet released the reasons for, or the potential length of, the suspension. State emphasized several points:

  • The State Department is working with adoption-related Ethiopian government officials to move the adoption cases which had children matched with parents as of the date of the suspension, but it is unclear what will happen to those cases.
  • The State Department will continue to promote intercountry adoption. The U.S. will continue to work on processing adoptions on the U.S. side but cannot control what the Ethiopian government will or will not do in terms of processing on their side.
  • The Ethiopian government recently approved a policy to promote adoptions within Ethiopia. The State Department is getting more information about this.
  • Families in process (those who have had children matched with them) are encouraged to send their case information to the State Department at adoption@state.gov and consadoptionaddis@state.gov. The State Department will try to help those families by providing information and working to move their cases through the system, even as the Ethiopian courts are apparently not hearing adoption cases anymore.
  • The State Department urged families to work with their adoption agencies (adoption service providers). State cannot provide legal advice as to what legal or political steps families should take.

The State Department answered questions from about 20 people who called in. The majority were prospective and adoptive American parents of Ethiopian children whose legal status is in flux as a result of the suspension. My understanding is that some of the children could be the legal children of their adoptive parents, but who do not have, as a result of the suspension, the Ethiopian government signatures needed to get the documents (passports, birth certificates) to leave the country.

One parent asked about contacting Congressional representatives for help. State noted that parents were of course welcome to do so, that State cannot advise parents about doing that, and that the Congressional offices often reach back to State for information. Another parent asked in vague terms about taking legal action against Ethiopia. State reiterated it cannot give legal advice, and suggested folks seek the advice of a local attorney. My sense is that we Americans often lean toward hiring lawyers and pressuring our way into getting the outcomes we feel are deserved: sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. I would think there is little that American lawyers could do to pressure Ethiopian government officials, given the complexity of international law and the differing political philosophies of other countries. My hope is that everyone is transparent, and looking for the best outcomes for the children–that may be overly optimistic, I realize.

One caller said she had heard there are some 225 cases “in the pipeline.” State did not comment on that number. State reiterated their suggestion that all families with matched children are the priority right now, and to contact them at adoption@state.gov with information and questions. They noted that the cases of matched children have the best chances of being acted upon by the Ethiopian government.

There was a question about a “soft match,” cases where prospective parents have identified/selected a child they would like to adopt via an agency’s list of children, but legal formalities (including a home study) have not been completed. State suggested, given that there is no concrete information on how long the suspension will last, that the family send their information to adoption@state.gov so they can look at the situation more specifically. State sympathized with another caller who asked about families who are in the process but not yet matched, and suggested they work with their adoption service provider who may be in the best position to guide them.

I asked if the State Department would consider urging the Ethiopian government to invite adult adoptees to share their perspectives and experiences with the government. My personal hope is that the Ethiopian government would do this on their own, in some way reaching out to the thousands of adult adoptees around the world to hear their stories. Would it be possible for the State Department to suggest this? State said it was a good suggestion, and they are interested in hearing the views of all stakeholders.

One large and unfortunately realistic fear is that American and other adoptive parents will have legal custody of and responsibility for Ethiopian children, but not be able to take the children out of Ethiopia, for months or longer. I hope that the Ethiopian government will move these pipeline cases quickly. If the receiving country’s paperwork is all in order, and if the Ethiopian government has signed off on the adoptions far enough to give the adoptive parents custody, then let’s not leave these children in a legal limbo for months or years, unable to be adopted by anyone else, and unable to be with the parents whom the Ethiopian government has approved to raise them.

I applaud the Ethiopian government’s possible plans to increase in-country adoption. I also know that is a very long road to fruition, potentially involving intense, expensive, and long-term staffing, outreach, and education, if such an initiative is to succeed. Family preservation has to be a centerpiece of any effective child welfare policy, especially in a country where so many children in orphanages are not orphans at all.

So many emotions, laws, precedents, and policies are in play right now. So much money entangled in the business that is adoption, money flowing from parents to adoption agencies to comparatively impoverished countries. In the middle of it all: vulnerable children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethiopia Suspends Adoptions

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa posted a notice today saying they had been notified by the Ethiopian Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) that MOWA is suspending its processing of intercountry adoptions, effective immediately. At this point, I have seen no definitive information on the reasons for the suspension, or for how long the adoptions will be suspended.

This news is receiving a lot of attention on Facebook among adoptive families and adoptees. There is plenty of speculation about the causes: an investigation into an adoption agency or orphanage; a response to political events; a desire to ensure that children being adopted are genuine orphans and their reasons for needing adoption are accurate; a desire to change the image of Ethiopia as a country that needs to “export” its children.

Ultimately, of course, Ethiopian government officials are the only ones who know for certain, and it is entirely possible we will never know the reasons.

There is precedence for the suspension; adoptions were effectively suspended in a slowdown for a few months last year. MOWA was reorganized; required interviews were delayed. There is also precedence in many other countries for suspending, decreasing, or stopping adoptions. Examples which come quickly to mind are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Romania, Russia, Guatemala, China, and South Korea. Adoptions have slowed or stopped for political reasons, because of internal fraud and corruption, because of agency fraud and corruption, and because of a country’s shame in having to send its children outside of its borders. Keep in mind that the U.S. also sends children to other countries for adoption, primarily to Europe and Canada. That’s a fact that often surprises people.

I don’t think anyone following Ethiopian adoptions in recent years is surprised by today’s development. The role of money in intercountry adoptions is powerful and for years has encouraged fraud and bribery. With adoption agencies being investigated by the FBI or closing as a result of a U.S. Justice Department indictment, with agencies who had Hague Convention accreditation (the only official accreditation available) suddenly closing because of bankruptcy, with adoptive families finding out that their Ethiopian children have living parents, with Ethiopian birth families having been told they would receive reports and updates which never happened, and with the pendulum of child welfare advocacy moving toward family preservation over adoption–well, it’s a perfect storm of sorts.

There’s no question the numbers of children being adopted from Ethiopia have declined in recent years, as is true in many other countries as well. I wrote last year about what people who were lamenting that decline could do: there are many ways to help the children, and I truly hope anyone moved by this recent suspension will do all they can to work toward orphan prevention and family preservation.

There will always be children who could benefit from adoption, perhaps especially those  who are genuine, verified orphans; or those who have physical conditions or disabilities which are untreatable or fatal in their home country.

I so hope that there will be some good that comes from this suspension: efforts to reunite children with their parents and to support family preservation; accurate assessment of whether children are true orphans in need of adoption; and strong policies for family preservation programs, women’s job training, and literacy.

I wish Ethiopia would invite adult adoptees to return and would listen to their stories and ideas. They would hear from those who believe adoption saved their lives and from those who have suffered greatly. They all deserve to be heard. I wish Ethiopia would provide a forum for birth/first mothers to tell their stories as well. I wish the U.S. and other countries would provide the same level of pre- and post- adoption services to Ethiopian birth/first families as they do to adoptive families: the inequity is shameful.

Time will tell what will happen in Ethiopia. This could be a wonderful opportunity for promoting child welfare that is a model to the world, rather than an event that results in no genuine change for vulnerable children.

The State Department notification is available here.