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Ethiopian children exploited by US adoption agencies



  10:21:28 pm, by admin   , 1226 words  
Categories: Culture and Society

Ethiopian children exploited by US adoption agencies

An Ethiopian mother recounts the grief of having no information about her adopted child. (Foreign Correspondent)

Ethiopian children exploited by US adoption agencies

Source: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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Heartbreak in Ethiopia


By Mary Ann Jolley for Foreign Correspondent

Sit for any time in the foyer of the Hilton Hotel in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, and you'll see a procession of Americans and Europeans wandering from their rooms across the marble floor to the restaurant or swimming pool with their precious new possessions - babies or infants they've just adopted.

I'd never really thought a great deal about international adoption until I was confronted with the scene as I checked into the hotel in September last year.

I'd arrived to film a story for ABC TV's Foreign Correspondent program about the drought-induced famine.

The longer I stayed, the more I started to think about the adopted children - where they were from and how they must feel to suddenly find themselves alone with someone whose skin colour doesn't match theirs and whose language they don't speak.

They're dressed in alien attire - a brand new Red Sox baseball cap and T-shirt with some cute and cheery foreign slogan plastered across the front - and in an environment like none they've ever seen, when just out on the street is the one they know so well, where their extended family and fellow countrymen reside.

There was something incredibly disturbing about seeing international adoption en masse. All these children about to leave their country to begin a new life in a faraway place, disconnected from their heritage and culture.

Out on the street where poverty and hardship prevail, my attitude softened. While I was filming at the produce market in Addis Ababa a little urchin appeared beside me.

She had short hair and was wearing a torn, faded dress with sash tails hanging loosely from the waist at both sides, and shoes with no laces.

Her toes exposed where the leather had worn through. She would have been about nine or 10, but she was already working; her job was to sweep up the rubbish in the markets.

"Miss," she said, "Americana?"

"No." I nodded with a smile as I rushed off to catch up with the crew.

"Where are you from?" She was at my side again.

"Australia," I replied, thinking in my ignorance that her next question would be, "Where's Australia?" But, no, she knew it was the land of the kangaroos and wanted to know if I could take her back so she could go to school.

"I would love to," I said, impressed by her request. "But unfortunately I can't." I was hoping, I must admit, that would be enough to send her and her friends back to work, but she persisted.

"Do you have any pens for me?"

"Sorry, I don't," I replied, quite surprised she was asking for pens and not, as is usually the case, money.

"What about paper? Do you have any paper for me for school?"

I didn't have anything on me because I'd been told to leave my bag in the car to avoid pickpockets. I felt terrible that I couldn't help her.

Here was this child desperate to write and learn, but instead of being at school she was dragging rotten fruit and vegetables from the mud and slush between the stalls.

What obvious potential she had. Imagine what she could achieve if I could take her back to school in Australia. Perhaps adoption is the answer, I thought to myself.

But that was an emotional reaction. It would be almost a year before I would have the chance to dwell seriously on the subject. In July I was on a plane heading back.

Seedy underbelly

Ethiopia is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, which requires international adoptions be used only as a last resort after all domestic adoption options have been exhausted.

There is overwhelming evidence to prove it is far better for a child to remain with its family or, if that's not possible, with another family in his or her own country than to be shipped off overseas. But in Ethiopia today it seems it's not about what's best for the child, but rather meeting the demand of foreigners wanting a child.

There are more than 70 private international adoption agencies operating in Ethiopia. None of them are Australian. In Australia, international adoptions are a Government affair and strict regulations help to keep the process transparent. Almost half the agencies in Ethiopia are unregistered, some doing whatever they can to find children to satisfy the foreign market.

While there are more than 5 million legitimate orphans in Ethiopia, a large proportion of these will never be considered for international adoptions.

Foreigners prefer younger children - babies to five-year-olds. Older children or those with health problems are more difficult to pitch. So while many children languish in underfunded and overcrowded orphanages, some international adoption agencies are out spruiking in villages asking families to relinquish their children for adoption.

It's a phenomenon known as "harvesting" and it's shocking to see.

A DVD sent to families wanting to adopt by an American adoption agency, Christian World Adoption, shows one of the agency's workers in full flight surrounded by families and children in a remote community in the south of the country, where the vast majority are evangelical Christians.

"If you want your child to go to a Christian American family, you may stay. If you don't want your child to go to America, you should take your child away," she says.

The DVD goes on for some hours with the woman introducing each child offered for adoption one at a time. They sit on a bench in between her and their parents or guardians.

"Here are two brothers, but only one is available at the moment," she says for one family. For the next she tells how "it's very hard for a widow to care for her children in this culture".

"Oh no, you mustn't pick your nose," she says to a child. She then points out a rash on another's face and reassures the viewer it isn't permanent and that it can be healed with treatment. All children are asked to sing the alphabet song made famous on Sesame Street. It reeks of a new colonialism. It's hard to believe it's happening in the 21st century.

Parents are often unaware of what they're doing when they offer their children for adoption. They're led to believe they'll hear from their children regularly and their children will be well educated and eventually bring the family wealth.

But in reality, the parents and families never hear from their children and receive little information about where their children have gone. We filmed a room full of grieving mothers who gave their children for adoption after agencies promised they'd be given regular updates.

Some were even told the agency would help support their remaining children. Their stories are gut-wrenching.

No one disputes there is a real need for international adoptions, but for the sake of the children and adoptive parents there needs to be some protection from unscrupulous agencies who purport to be driven by humanitarian interests, but in reality are stuffing their pockets with dirty cash.

-Watch Foreign Correspondent on ABC1 at 8pm tonight. Read the full version of A Heartbreaking Assignment at


Tags: adoption


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Comment from: Tsiyon [Visitor]

Most parents give there child willingly.
The true story is actually, it is the ppl that agrees to adopt the children that get misinformed and in so many occuasions they have been talled the toddlers real-parents are no more alive.

I actually think that it is an opportunity for the children to live up to their potential.
Had this not been the case, it is highly likely that the children would have end up in the street of addis after a while.

This so called real-parents are not actually worried much about their children. What all they need is some mony for themselves and they won’t give a dame about the condition of there child. The are even wiling to give their child for hard labour as long as they get little money in return.

09/14/09 @ 23:20
Comment from: Abyot [Visitor]

Ethiopians have been saying this for years, Woyane is selling our children to the highest bidder.

My beef is with Woyane not the Americans or westerners who are opening their home and heart to welcome what they thought are orphans. As the article articulates it, international adoption should be the very last resort, but unfortunately it has become a cash cow for those involved in the business.

And my sources in Addis tell me that, Woyanes are big time playas in the adoption business and the government is turning a blind eye to the whole situation.

I am hopeful this report will help in stopping these illegitimate adoptions.

Most of the adopting parents from America are in Ethiopia with good intentions, it is the adoption agencies who are gaming the system for a quick profit. And Woyanes are sleep at the switch once again, not doing their responsibility, which is regulating.

09/14/09 @ 23:33
Comment from: Disappointed [Visitor]

Is this the so called Developnent in Ethiopia which the useless Meles is has been deafening our ears?

I pray God eliminate this beggar man?

09/15/09 @ 00:22
Comment from: lebona [Visitor]

What planet are you from? Would YOU give your children up for some money? Do YOU KNOW anybody who has done that? Would it be fair to conclude from your remarks that you are one of those people who works for those “adoption” agancies?

09/15/09 @ 00:39
Comment from: kibrom [Visitor]

I am very sorry, every thing is for sale now in the land of weyane! Land, women, babies……

09/15/09 @ 00:51
Comment from: ababiya [Visitor]

“yeferin mender ahiya yiworewal” our father died for us and the land they left for us. Now, we the adults could not even cry to save the children from dog bit. i don’t blame no one but my self because i am not any better than a dog. Woyane is better than me.

09/15/09 @ 00:59
Comment from: lij [Visitor]

These children my survive the West physically but psychologically, they are a mess. Poverty is not of money alone, it can be of spirit as well. Poor and dignified with a history and a community is better than rich and empty inside and that is what they will get. It is difficult to develop a strong sense of self for a balck person in the West. There is what is called institutionalized structure that works against a person of dark skin.

09/15/09 @ 01:33
Comment from: [Member]

I live in Australia and everytime I see an adopted Ethiopian kid, my heart wants to pop out of me and tears hang in to my eyes. Not only for those with whites parents, but even for those Ethiopian kids with parents with little education or none.

For those of us who grow up even in Ethiopia with some sort of identity, life is not easy. Let alone for those kids who are growing up with parents of diffrent colour. Do not get me wrong, their might have adopted kids for one or another reason. In most cases it might be a helping…but I wander what kind of kids will they be. If you ask any Ethiopian about their own kids…they even have a nightmares what their children’s life will be.

Some Ethiopians kids even growing up here are not having a happy ending their parents dreamed of. In a very fast moving and cofusing world, some of them are having mental problems one way or another. some of the reason might be school yard bullying or not able to mix with other kids…part of it might be the social skill parents may need to teach their children..say even helping them with school work is not upto scratch…as they have little or no education.

I could write a book on the challenges of children wether they are adopted as child or came as an adult. I have even mate people who ae still struggling after coming here through scholarship, skilled migrants and to work…The challenge is real and I think governments needs to work through these challenges.

I am really thankfull Marry Ann bring this to light. The picture you put above speaks a thousand words and every ethiopian who is going to read your article knows, what you are going to write by just looking the title and the heart breaking picture.

Anyway, I have to stop here for now…and will see what others say. But for those of you like Abyot…stop your politics this is a serious matter. These are mothers who are crying day in and day out with guilt for giving up their children. Please be reminded adopted children might read this or their parents.
Bye for now

09/15/09 @ 02:40
Comment from: [Member]

Yes, it’s true. This is one of the situations where government needs to step in and do something about those Agencies who are dishonest, for the sake of a child.

However, let’s face it. For as long as I can remember, I do not know any well to do people in Ethiopia who are adopting orphans and raise them for a better future. That experience has not been widely practiced in Ethiopia.

But,I am not saying that there are no people with enough resources who are adopting and help orphans in Ethiopia. I am sure there are a few of them.

Although, let’s not forget the harsh reality of what most of those Orphans go through when they are placed in people’s homes in Ethiopia. From my experience,if people take in an Orphan in Ethiopia,most likely than not she or he’s will end up being a maid or a house server for the rest of their lives. Therefore, the statement that states “Domestic adoption should be considered first” really does not make sense to me at all.

Even if people are adopting in Ethiopia, it’s not like there’s going to be a shortage of orphans for foreigners to go around.

But again, it’s the government that has to regulate these things, so the door for those deceitful agencies would be narrowed.

09/15/09 @ 03:00
Comment from: wer [Visitor]


09/15/09 @ 03:35
Comment from: Tadele [Visitor]

No body sells your children,if you don’t have any clue about having a child, even most animals make their offspring self sufficient before having another one, who gonna raise your six or more babies eventhough you can’t afford one ? Meles ? If you don’t manage your own life, you will be the source of misery for your own children, not the government.

09/15/09 @ 03:53
Comment from: Akilo [Visitor]  


09/15/09 @ 04:02
Comment from: birhan [Visitor]


09/15/09 @ 04:02
Comment from: Mamo Gada [Visitor]
Mamo Gada

Mamo Gada

Mary Ann Jolley should be a screen writer rather than a journalist; she invented a story out of something that is not news worse. Western corporate media exploits the world poorest individuals with no regard to their individual dignity and self respect. They travel any where in African and record and/or take horrific pictures that will eventually land in the front page of every major newspaper and news media. Yes there is little truth to her reporting, but most of it is exaggeration and theatrical creative writing that is very typical in contemporary English literature which seems to stick with her from journalism school days. The uncomfortable truth is that we all are playing in the global capitalism system and the “Race to the Bottom” is inevitable. This is true in child adaptation, journalism, and it is also true when the global corporate takes over the poor farmers singular means of subsistence i.e. their land. I’m not questioning the theory of Neo- liberal philosophy and its potential to exploit, because it is clear to many people but rather I am amused by its paradoxical nature and it’s not singular but double and triple exploitation in a very paradoxical terms but in very consistent and persistent means. In plain language:

American foster Parent gets Ethiopian Kids. “Race to the Bottom” right? Australian journalist looks for catchy front pager news = to the exploitation of African poor and its image in the world arena. Mary Ann Jolley Gets paid good chunks of money = lives in suburban affluent community, and drives Volvo. She also obtains prestige, moral authority and legitimacy in African mater. Corporate media (ABC) makes quadruple profit from Mary Ann work; share holders make money. CEO gets bones on top of stack option and enormous salary. CEO owns fancy condo in lower Manhattan, owns a fancy house in affluent suburban community, and yes summer vacation beach house. Drives expensive cars and once a year attend fund raising diner which could be attributed to stopping hanger in African, because it’s good for PR (public relation)

Prove me wrong ????????????

09/15/09 @ 04:04
Comment from: PIG SLAYER [Visitor]

And my sources in Addis tell me that, Woyanes are big time playas in the adoption business and the government is turning a blind eye to the whole situation.


The same goes for trafficking young Ethiopian maids, so called domestic workers, to The Middle East.

The greedy, soulless & uneducated TPLF/EPLF junta and their equally greedy, soulless & uneducated greedy followers worship only Money.
They are too dumb and to greedy to have anything remotely clsoe to a vision when it comes to their Motherland.

I consider them traitors and I hate them!

09/15/09 @ 04:13

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