From The Archives: Why We Are Not Adopting From Ethiopia Again

by Dani

In honer of the posts about the DRC and Ugandan adoptions I linked to in yesterdays post, I am reporting this post originally written Dec 29th, 2010. I stand behind every word of it still today.

We have been asked over the years why we aren't adopting from Ethiopia again. In fact, our social worker was surprised to hear we were returning to China but not Ethiopia. After all, don't we realize it is considered important by some for adopted children to have siblings who share their birth culture and racial heritage? Yes, we know this, and would love for Butterfly to have an Ethiopian sibling. Is it because we somehow dislike Ethiopia? Absolutely not!  Ethiopia holds a very special place in our hearts. In so much as one can love a country that is not your own, we love Ethiopia. Is it because we are somehow unhappy with Butterfly or "don't love her"? Don't be ridiculous!! If Butterfly had been born to us, we could not love her more!!

So WHY are we not adopting from Ethiopia? Short answer? There is far too much corruption, far too many unethical adoptions, and far too many other questionable gray areas for us to be comfortable considering Ethiopia. (Please note what I did not say. I did not say there are NO ethical adoptions from Ethiopia.) 

For sometime now we have not felt comfortable recommending Ethiopian adoption to anyone. If you ask us, we will tell you to look elsewhere. If you spend anytime in the Ethiopian adoption world, you will quickly learn there are a number of horrible agencies that are to be avoided. An Australian documentary called Fly Away Children helped with that. But we have known for a long time that the problems in Ethiopia run far deeper then "a few bad agencies". The agency we used in 2005 for Butterfly's adoption is still listed as an "ethical agency", one of the good guys. And compared to the worst of the worst, I guess they are. But over the years, we have learned story after story that forces me to put the word ethical in quotes when referencing them. (Because those stories are not mine, I am not at liberty to share them; please do not ask me to.  Those stories belong solely to the families who still suffer the effects to this day. Some of the stories are out there if you look for them.)

Honestly, even the few agencies who are still generally considered ethical (there are only 5) have stories connected to them that lead me to believe that any agency can end up facilitating an unethical adoption. And if you look at this PEAR post, it is obvious the problems are not limited to the US only. Even Ethiopia is beginning to admit there is a problem. In this recent article a judge admitted there is little the ET courts can do to prevent fraud, even when they believe the paperwork and witnesses in an adoption case are fraudulent. And if the recent information from Vietnam is any indication, the US embassy/USCIS is also relatively powerless to stop fraud and corruption.

Okay, corruption aside, (assuming you can actually stay clear of it), what about all the children in Ethiopia who do need new homes?  Well, we have come to believe that most of those children do not actually exist... at least not in the age range most adoptive parents are willing to adopt. By this I mean most children who truly have no family are over the age of 10 and most adoptive families want an infant or young toddler.  We see that many adoptees coming out of Ethiopia are "created orphans" (meaning that if international adoption, or IA, did not exist they would still be with their families) and few are "true orphans" (who have lost both parents to death or absolute abandonment).

In a recent article an Ethiopian official had this to say:

"Before 6-7 years (ago) there were not a lot of orphanages, like there are
now, so the increased number of adoption agencies brought about the
increase in the number of orphanages in Ethiopia," Mahadir said. "Most
of these orphanages are not orphanages. They are transit homes. They
receive children. They give to adoption. They are a (pipeline)."

This says to us that Ethiopia has reached a point where there is a culture of adoption, where children are placed for adoption because it exists. Very few children actually sit in institutions waiting for adoption. They are mostly coming straight from their first families and going straight to International Adoption.

We see adoption as often being a long term solution to a short term problem in Ethiopia. Yes, Ethiopia has a lot of issues and there is no social safety net, but we do not believe that adoption should be that safety net in most cases. If we can reach families to tell them that they can place their children for International Adoption, why can we not also reach them to help them with family preservation? (Yes, I realize this is all very complicated, and our beliefs are more nuanced than this but if I spelled everything out in this post it would be too long to post! Basically, we are not anti-adoption, but we ARE pro-family preservation!) Again, we believe adoption needs to be moved to its rightful place... the LAST resort. We realize there are many adoptive families out there who are okay with all of these gray areas. We are not.

We as a family have committed that we will only adopt a child who has no other option than international adoption to avoid life in an institution or on the streets without a family. This is actually part of a promise we made to Butterfly. Furthermore, we are Christians and as such try to follow the Bible. James 1:27 tells us we are "to look after orphans and widows in their distress".  We do not see how rushing in to take her child away forever is helping the widow in distress. We believe this is in fact causing her and her child great harm. Instead, caring for her, looking after her, and loving her as Christ would means helping her care for her child so she can raise that child right where that child was born.  We believe THAT is the religion which God "accepts as pure and faultless".

Due to these beliefs we hold, the gray areas mentioned above, and the high levels of corruption in Ethiopia, we feel that we can not in good conscience adopt from Ethiopia nor can we recommend the program to anyone else.

ETA: 8/15/11 Here is a blog that tells just a few of the stories coming out of Ethiopia. Ethiopian Adoption Truth

ETA: 4/30/12 A typical story involving the agency we used for Ethiopia. Inside Ethiopia's Adoption Boom