Wednesday, December 15, 2010

MEDIA: Under Pressure, Ethiopia Plans Crackdown on Baby Business

The following article cites the Ethiopia Survey Report conducted by PEAR. The survey report can be found on our website under "Projects & Positions":

The survey was based upon reports of corrupt and unethical practices received by PEAR over a two year period and incorporated the PEAR Prospective Adoptive Parents Bill of Rights (also available on our website). The purpose of the survey and report was to highlight the problems and bring about reforms eliminating those problems and ensuring ethical adoptions. It is our sincere hope that the reforms coming will clearly address those issues.

Voice of America Reports: Under Pressure, Ethiopia Plans Crackdown on Baby Business

Peter Heinlein | Addis Ababa
December 14, 2010

Theodore Lieberman, 2, adopted from Ethiopia, sits between his parents Jamie, right, and Aaron Lieberman, during the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) first ever Adoption Day ceremony,18 Nov 2010

Ethiopia is planning to shut down dozens of orphanages and withdraw accreditation from several foreign adoption agencies, in an effort to halt what critics say is a thriving baby business.

The Bright Hope transition center in Addis Ababa is a showcase child care facility, financed by a faith-based Texas charity. Twenty abandoned children, ranging in age from several months to four years, play in a carefully supervised environment as they wait to be placed in adoptive homes.

Bright Hope Director Getahun Nesibu Tesema says most of these orphans will be taken in by extended family members in Ethiopia.

"Our main focus is to help the children here in Ethiopia," Getahun said. "Adoption, international adoption especially, is our last resort."

But Bright Hope is an exception among foreign adoption agencies, in that it tries to place children within Ethiopia. This year, foreigners will take away about 5,000 Ethiopian orphans, often paying between $20,000 and $35,000 each for the privilege.

Half that number, nearly 2,500, will go to the United States. That is a ten-fold increase above the numbers just a few years ago.

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, co-chair of the Congressional Adoptions Coalition recently stopped at Bright Hope during a visit to the country that is becoming the destination of choice for Americans adopting overseas. Landrieu says it is easy to see why the number of Ethiopian orphans going to the United States has skyrocketed.

"One of the reasons is because people in America are falling in love with Ethiopian children," Landrieu said. "They love them. It's very simple. They think they're beautiful and smart."

The rapid rise in Ethiopian adoptions has set off alarm bells among children's lobby groups. The U.S. State Department issued a statement this month expressing concern about reports of adoption-related fraud, malfeasance and abuse in Ethiopia.

The statement warns prospective adoptive parents to expect delays in the adoption process. It says additional information may be required to determine facts surrounding a child's relinquishment or abandonment and whether the child meets the definition of orphan, under U.S. Immigration law.

Embassy consular officials say nearly two years of data collection has enabled them to identify individuals and agencies involved in unusual adoption activities.

U.N. Children's Fund in Addis Ababa chief Doug Webb says the large amount of money changing hands in adoptions is a huge temptation in an impoverished country.

"Money is a powerful factor in this country," Webb said. "We're talking about $20-25,000 per adoption coming into the country. And, there is increasing evidence of irregularities within the system of various types of problems at different levels. And, these have been well documented by PEAR."

Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform did a study of Ethiopia, this year, after detecting a pattern of troubles similar to those in Vietnam and Guatemala before they were closed to American adoptions. The PEAR study turned up evidence of unethical practices by adoption agencies and the use of coercive methods to persuade mothers to give up their babies.

Conditions in orphanages were found to be particularly severe. Some had no running water or sanitary facilities. Children are said to have suffered sexual abuse and beatings.

Ethiopian officials say their own studies confirm PEAR's findings. Mahadir Bitow, head of Ethiopia's Child Rights Promotion and Protection Director tells VOA one of the first priorities will be to close dozens of orphanages that appear to have sprung up to meet the demand for children.

"Before 6-7 years 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). So in the future we will not need all these orphanages."

Mahadir would give no time frame for shutting down orphanages that exist simply to fill the demand in the United States and a few other Western countries for Ethiopian babies.

She acknowledges the plan to close as many as 25 percent of the country's orphanages could create temporary havoc, as officials scramble to place thousands of de-institutionalized children. But she says taking away financial incentives should reduce the supply of babies offered for inter-country adoption.

Mahadir tells VOA the government also plans to re-accredit all foreign adoption agencies, using higher standards to weed out those involved in questionable practices. Child care advocates have been urging such a move for years.

Part two of this series will examine whether an impoverished country like Ethiopia, with a weak social services infrastructure, can successfully fight the moneyed interests intent on keeping the baby pipeline open. And, if they do succeed, whether the phenomenon will simply pop up in another part of the globe.

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Ethics, Transparency, Support
~ What All Adoptions Deserve.


Sharon said...

When I read this article the other day I thought it was interesting that they said 20-25k was going into the country for each adoption. Nearly 1/4 of our expenses stayed in state for social worker services at our home study agency. Another 1/4 was the cost of flying (and we didn't use an Ethiopian airline). That leaves half...and I know our placement agency had to keep some of that in the US to cover their expenses. Then there's the costs we paid to USCIS for immigration clearances, citizenship and stuff...So let's just say that *maybe* 10k made it into the country. How are they coming up with such high figures?

PEAR said...

I'm not sure what sources Mr. Webb used to reach the 20K - 25K number. I agree that these are a bit high for incountry fees alone. Our survey shows a range of fees between 3K and 9K with 6K-7K being the norm for families using US agencies. (these numbers do not reflect mandatory or highly encouraged orphanage donations). However, even with a lower range of incountry fees, it amounts to between 6 and 20 million US dollars coming into Ethiopia in 2009 alone. The same inference of the corrupting nature of that money can be made, especially when children are suffering and dying due to lack of proper care in institutions supposedly benefiting from this money.