As I stood in the check-in counter at Addis Ababa’s Bole Airport a few weeks back on my way to London, I noticed an all too familiar sight. Many European and American families with Ethiopian babies. In my particular flight at the time of my check in I counted 8 different families with new Ethiopian adoptive babies. For 2 of these families, it was their second adoption from Ethiopia as they were accompanied by young children (ranging from 6-10 yrs of age). The number of these adoptions have exponentially risen in Ethiopia. I’m sure that a wave of celebrity adoption of African babies, one of which was from Ethiopia has fueled this trend.
I have gotten into many heated debates about this topic with friends here in Ethiopia. I was always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and advocated for these adoptions. Ethiopia is in the process of reforming its adoption policies to attract more international adoptions. I viewed this as a positive step forward to making the process more transparent and an effort to safeguard children who are being placed with foreign families. I strongly argued against allegations of why these Western families were coming to adopt from Africa and Ethiopia in particular. My feeling was every child deserves a good home and most of these families are those who for some reason or another want to expand their families… so in a way it’s win-win.
I brushed aside the troubling fact that mostly Caucasian parents to be, adopt East African children and set them up for a life-time of confusion and isolation as they struggle to reconcile their new homes and their heritage. Further, I pushed aside the fact that Ethiopia is a country trying to manage this flux of international adoptions. As a result some of their safeguards and vetting processes for prospective parents is somewhat weak and can surrender young children to the hands of relative strangers who will take him/her to a foreign land and potentially expose them to abuse…and lack of a safety net to turn to in the event of such acts.
Many opponents of this wave of adoptions often argued why these parents fail to adopt from their own countries, where the foster care system is overflowing with children waiting to be placed into good homes. In my naive effort, I argued that systems in Western countries are very restrictive (which is true), which leads desperate parents to be, to venture and seek other avenues of adopting children.
I was troubled by blogs in the blogosphere where new parents talk about struggling to manage “unruly” hair of their new adopted daughters and the manner in which they conveyed their differences. I can only imagine what kind of impact that has on a child growing up knowing how different they are from their adoptive parents. These acts serve as subtle messages that create a chasm between the adoptive child and their adoptive parents and reinforce a divide in the mind of this child.
A friend of mine recently shared this link… where a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl adopted into an American home and relocated to Seattle, Washington, was found dead from frostbite in her family’s backyard. Reports indicated that teachers noticed that she lost significant weight before her death. Several months later and no one has been charged with her death and inquiries into this gross negligence have been moving at a glacial pace. Reading about this story was heartbreaking. I realize it would be premature of me to say this is what happens to every adoptive child. But hearing this story highlighted that these acts exist and authorities in their adoptive countries are very slow to react.
Lastly, I was captivated by a 3 part story on Slate.com titled the Makeni Children, where the Mosely family recounts their tribulations with international adoptions and discovering that their children whom they thought were orphans and in need of good homes were actually part of a large child selling schemes. Middle men/women, worked to lure young children from their families and practically sell them to adoption agencies in the US.
I am still an advocate for adoptions. There are many many children here in Ethiopia, Sudan and across the horn who are in need of good homes. Governments are doing very little to help provide basic needs to these children. To add, the destructive stigmas that surround adoptions in our cultures leave many of these children in sub-par orphanages, without hope of finding families. Yet I am more aware that the issue of adoptions is not black and white, yet many grey shades in between. I do hope that the Ethiopian government works to make adoption process more stringent and create stronger linkages in order to facilitate follow-up of adoptive children in their new environments. I also hope that those who adopt from Ethiopia become more conscious of remarks and actions that may seem harmless but can scar a child for life… and as a closing remark, I do hope that “we” Ethiopians/ Sudanese (people from the Horn of Africa) begin to shift our paradigm and reconsider adoptions. Instead of merely criticizing foreigners coming an adopting local children…why can’t we be part of the solution by providing homes for some of these children.