I find the topic of adoption, especially international adoption, to be a divisive one. While on the one hand there is the “international adoption is heaven sent” group who argue that it provides children who have lost their parents because of different reasons a chance to have parents, be educated in better schools, travel, and get exposed to a whole new world. On the other hand you have the “international adoption is child trafficking” group who share stories of abuse, racism (especially in inter-racial adoptions), lack of international mechanism to follow up regarding the children’s well being. And on this point, as on many other points, the people I have spoken to strongly agree with one side or another, there seems to be no middle ground.
The challenge is clear, how can you know that the parents are “fit” and the how these adoptions are affecting the children. We hear stories of people such as Marcus Samuelsson, a renowned Chef with whose life story is the example par excellence of just how great an adoption can go. But then you hear of stories such as that of Hana Williams, a young Ethiopian adoptee whose adoptive parents neglected her, abused her in unspeakable ways which resulted in her death. The parents have been taken to court and sentenced to jail. But in my opinion, that does not bring an innocent girl’s life back.
Last month, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s office issued an immediate suspension on inter-country adoptions. This means that new inter-country adoption procedures cannot be started; however, it is unclear if processes started prior to this suspension will also be on hold. This has garnered a bit of confusion as the suspension came without prior warning.
The data on adoption is plastered all over the internet, so no need to regurgitate it here. However, a topic that we do not discuss is the parents. Why a couple decides to adopt outside of their own country? What facilities or existing structures are there to select them, to support them during the process and after the adoption? Particularly issues related to linguistic and cultural divides are those that come to mind. I was listening to interviews of white American parents discussing their challenge while raising their black son adopted from sub-Saharan African country.
A few days ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop writing this very column. On the table next to me, 3 white American couples were sitting and enjoying their last meal in Addis before they take a flight back to the US. These couples had each adopted an Ethiopian child and were very excited to be taking their babies home. However, one of the young children named Hanna, approximately 5 years old, was very quiet and then she slowly uttered the word “ferahu, ferahu” which means “I’m afraid, I’m afraid”.
My heart broke and a flood of tears went down my face. What to do?
I cannot make my mind up about it, to support or not to support inter-country adoptions, I think the narratives of it being “heaven sent” or “child trafficking” are too simplistic and do not do the complex process justice.
All I can do is say a prayer to all the young Ethiopian children being adopted and the families taking them in, but I understand that you cannot make a policy out of a prayer. So, what to do?