For years, the Central American nation of Guatemala was one of the most popular countries of origin for intercountry adoption. It sent as many as 4,000 children for adoption in 2008, most of them to the United States. This took place under the shadow of reports and allegations of child trafficking and kidnapping not to mention coercion of children away from their parents. The Guatemalan government sought to reform the system, significantly reducing this number.
The reforms came almost a decade ago – about the time that adoptions from Ethiopia to other nations peaked. Within a couple of years, Ethiopia had outperformed Guatemala, sending dozens of times as many children for adoption as the Central American nation, according to data compiled from receiving states.
For most of the early 2010s, Ethiopia remained the most popular destination for families looking to adopt. Coinciding with a time of ambitious visions for the country, the most popular of which was to become a lower middle-income economy by 2025, it must have meshed well with the objective of the Revolutionary Democrats. If the target was to ensure that every citizen gets an equitable opportunity for education, housing and clean water, then non-nationals coming and taking some of that burden away, where resources can be concentrated elsewhere, is only providential.
In the decade since 2004, over 30,000 Ethiopian children were adopted by non-nationals.
But the outlook has since turned sour. Almost two weeks ago, the parliament voted to amend the law on family, making non-nationals ineligible to adopt children from Ethiopia. The bill, which has since become a controversial topic, though having passed with a majority vote in parliament, faced reservations from some MPs.
The opponents of the bill were only being reasonable: Ethiopia is too resource-poor a nation to fend off Westerners that could reduce some of the burdens from the state’s shoulders. Where there are weak social services, large numbers of orphans and a great many street children, intercountry adoptions could not hurt.
Although estimates vary as a result of the nation’s chronic shortfall in data keeping, there are around 150,000 street children throughout Ethiopia. The number of orphaned children is likewise 4.5 million – 900,000 of these as a result of losing their parents to HIV/AIDS – according to a UN report of 2012. These are all children who would get far less quality, or no, schooling and housing than the ones in these statistics.
Recent weather effects and political unrests have not helped. Severe droughts have contributed to 3.6 million children, including pregnant and lactating women, becoming undernourished in 2016, according to Save the Children. Add to this political unrests in regions of the country that have contributed to the displacement of over a million people, then one finds a government that could use to outsource some of its responsibilities. If not to allow the government to focus its resources in areas where it could bring the most benefit, then intercountry adoptions should persist to reduce the lot of the children.
These are facts that officials do not negate. But in tabling the family bill last October, lawmakers made a case that child trafficking, and abuse of children by their non-national adoptive parents overseas was a severe enough issue to cancel the system entirely.
The dark side of intercountry adoption found traction in 2013 after an American woman was sentenced to prison for starving, before leaving in the cold, her adopted child. Thirteen-year-old Hanna Williams, who was adopted from Ethiopia, had died of hypothermia a couple of years ago. After the case, intercountry adoption from Ethiopia dropped by two folds to 983 in 2014 than the preceding year.
Right’s advocacy groups have thus questioned whether the shortfalls of the system outweigh the benefits. Groups advocating for child right issues such as the Against Child Trafficking (ACT) claim that the intercountry adoption system in Ethiopia “is riddled by fraud and other criminal activities.”
Such assertions have been perceived to have merit by receiving countries. One is Denmark, which found that the adoption process is handled poorly, after a visit to facilities, such as adoption agencies, and decided to ban all adoptions from Ethiopia a couple of years ago.
The growing unpopularity is by no means an isolated case. Throughout the globe, there are fewer adoptions taking place across international borders. In the decade since 2004, it dropped by 72pc. Even China has dramatically lowered the rate of intercountry adoptions, to a fraction of what it was a decade back.
That there are fewer people under the poverty line is one factor this could be attributed to, where more families in developing countries have the capability of taking care of their children. This is complemented by better social services in some nations, as a result of both economic development and retardation to the birth rate, as the case had been in China.
Such developments are welcome, if not for the other contributing factors that paint a less rosy picture of the 21st Century, such as rising nationalism both in receiving and origin countries. It is a concept that figures into the argument by the proponents of the bill to ban non-nationals from adopting children in Ethiopia.
The conviction that orphaned children have to be raised surrounded by their original tradition and culture is a callous distortion of the ultimate purpose of adoption. Nothing else should factor in when deciding the accommodations for children but their best interests. Otherwise, the nation is going down a slippery slope that would lead to a further narrowing of the children’s choices.
What guarantee is there that orphans will not be required to grow up within the contours of their lingo-cultural group next?
No system is perfect. And it will be abused, and its purpose deformed, if not actively and methodically enforced and supervised. The primary focus should have been maximising the well-being of children, both of which are targets the ban had in mind. But the measure is to the detriment of the opportunities others could have obtained.
Streamlining the vetting process by way of reducing the number of adoption agencies in the country could have been one place to start instead. This is to guarantee that authorities can concentrate their resources when carrying out the oversight of firms that are often accused of falsifying documents.
Another would have been to become a signatory of the Hague Adoption Convention, which could better facilitate the intergovernmental relationship between origin and destination countries. This would undoubtedly make the process more complicated and bureaucratic, discouraging some families looking to adopt. But it should serve as a necessary check that exists to ensure that children are placed in safer homes.
Parliament’s action is a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. It failed to empirically weigh the pros against the cons, and deliver a decision that is in keeping with a global trend that is in the best interest of the nation’s ill-fated children.
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