Adapt to Adopt

I got a text last Friday from one of my closest friends.

“Did you hear that adoption by non-nationals has been banned in Ethiopia?”

Coming from a friend who had grown up in Europe because she was adopted, this question made me wonder at great length.

She was one of many adoptees who had returned to Ethiopia looking to reconnect with a country she had left too early to recognise as home. Yet many felt a bond and decided to stay. Walking and blending in, they no longer felt like the odd looking ones. And with time, they created a connection that made Ethiopia feel like home once again.

There are many hardships faced by adoptees around the world.

How could one forget the story of 13-year old Hanna Williams who reportedly died as a result of torture by her adoptive parents in 2011?

Wrongdoing, undoubtedly, unfortunately, exists. No system is perfect. But as this huge decision has been made nationwide, I wonder what the contingencies are. A college mate, who has worked for the entirety of his career in adoption-related areas, once shared with me in frustration that two children die every week in public orphanages.

As diapers are too expensive, some use 0.2 Br plastic bags, which gives the children rashes. In the southern regions, as the rate of inter-country adoptions have been reduced, especially since the unfortunate incident of Hanna, children are left with fewer options.

And this makes me wonder what fallbacks have been put in place for adoption by non-nationals has been banned. As orphanages are forced to shut down or are unable to support even those they have taken, the crisis of our nation’s children continues.

The culture of adoption does not exist in today’s Ethiopia. For whatever reason, even if a couple cannot have a child through natural means, families pray and do everything they can do to have biological children, without a single thought for adoption. This is how the cookie crumbles. And unless that changes, or we figure out how to care for these children, there is little sense in banning inter-country adoptions.

I wondered if there was a legitimate reason for parliament’s decision last week. It is often that adoption agencies are accused of abusing the system – giving way to child trafficking.

But is it viable to scratch the whole system for the sake of a few bad practices, based on individual unfortunate narratives that have grabbed worldwide headlines, even if statistics and research tell a different story?

What happens when a mother is abandoned by her partner, become pregnant as a result of rape or various other scenarios that make a woman not want to raise her child? What happens when the couples are incapable of raising their children, or when a child loses both his parents?

There are many scenarios and perhaps no perfect answers, but there must be better solutions. There are horrific stories of various mothers who have gone to great lengths to get rid of their children, usually for lack of a viable alternative.

Many have applauded the ban, for instance by those that prefer to keep the Ethiopian culture undiluted by inter-country adoption. But this is the last situation where the survival of our culture should dictate our decisions. What we are in need of is a nationwide solution. The current stand on adoption is neither rational nor practical.

The fact is that no one is perfect. Even those who have grown up with their biological parents face multiple problems. Adoption is not the cause of a person’s struggle.

Has the policy taken into consideration those with disabilities that are happily adopted and have been given treatments unavailable locally?

Some talk as if adoption is selling children to the highest bidder, yet it is about giving children a home. This is not a place for emotions but a moment to draw in the expertise in our country that can help proceed on the right path.

It is admirable that we have taken a stand to say that we will solve our problems internally. But in doing as such, we need to put pen to paper and say that we have a plan to save these children. Placing a child in an institutionalised care should be the last resort. There should be every effort to keep children under family care before deciding to send them to an orphanage.

As this measure has taken effect, and a majority of the orphanages have little supporting capability, we should take a step forward as a community to help children that are left to their own devices.

For those who cannot protect or fend for themselves, we must uphold the culture of adoption in our communities and have conversations about it to make it less taboo. Because, whether they die here or abroad, it makes no difference if the children are dying anyway. We have to be the society that cares for them. The right thing is easier said than done. But it can start today, and it should start with every one of us.


By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Centre where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Jan 21,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 926]



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