I adopted my two children from Ethiopia four years ago. Since then, I have developed a network of friends who have adopted internationally, and they have been invaluable as resources and sounding boards.
During this time frame, we’ve all become increasingly aware that there are numerous problems with the adoption process in Ethiopia, just as there have been in Guatemala, Vietnam, Korea, Russia… actually, there are problems with international adoptions everywhere. This is because in every country around the world where there are children who need homes, there are circumstances that make the system vulnerable to corruption.
In the case of Ethiopia, the root of the problem is that some families giving up their children are lied to. Most frequently, they are told that their children will study in the United States and then come back. These lies come from middlemen who see that money can be made from international adoption. They’ll tell the parents that the children are going to the United States to study, and that they will come back. They’ll say whatever the Ethiopian family needs to hear to get the child surrendered, and they’ll coach them on how to answer questions so that the adoption looks legitimate to the government investigators who are attempting to verify the adoption. In case you weren’t sure, this sort of fraud is, according to the United Nations, human trafficking.
There have been dozens of cases that I am aware of where a “fully orphaned” child actually had a living parent. There have been hundreds more where the child’s background has been substantially different than the adoptive parents were told. To a one, the adoptive parents in these cases are devastated and horrified. To a one, they’ve tried to figure out how to handle this. Unfortunately, as they try to investigate the truth, some of them have learned that the remaining family of their children is being threatened because of their investigations. It’s a horrible situation.
My children’s history is well-documented (for Ethiopia) and has been verified by the children themselves. We know the key points of their unusual social history. However, we both recognize that this is simply because of a bizarre twist in fate, and that we were part of the problem.
Back when we adopted, there weren’t all of these stories about fraud in the Ethiopian adoption process. United Nations statistics showed that there were literally millions of orphaned children. Our U.S. adoption agency told us they had verified that these children were available for adoption, and so did the Ethiopian government. We knew that there were cases where the government felt the paperwork of verification was inadequate. The adopters even met with any remaining family members as part of the adoption process. Obviously, that wasn’t good enough.
Common sense tells me that all international adoption is vulnerable to these exact same things. None of the situations are transparent, there is not sufficient administrative oversight, and since greed and desperation are universal human flaws, what happened in Ethiopia can happen there, too. As a result, I can’t recommend that anyone begin the process of international adoption. The system needs to be overhauled, and I’m not sure it can be.