Don't Adopt from Ethiopia

Miriam Jordan at The Wall Street Journal has published an investigative article about adoption from Ethiopia, which has for several years been riddled with allegations of fraud and unethical practices. This article tells the deceptively simple story of Melesech Roth, whose Ethiopian birthmother died of malaria, and whose birthfather (who lives in stone-age poverty) gave her up for adoption when someone came through his village, offering to take children to America who would later help support their families. The writing is so straightforward that you may not realize how extraordinary it is unless you've tried to write a similar piece. Persuading an adoptive family to talk with you on the record, and also finding the biological family and getting them to talk on the record, is a significant feat. 

The accompanying ten-minute video is even more powerful than the written story. You can see for yourself that Melesech, by any material measure, is far better off than her siblings, who are pounding grain and building fires in the dirt-floor, mud-walled hut where they live alongside their chickens. But you also see her biological father's face and hearing his voice as he explains that of course he did not give away his child forever; she will support him and come back again. In fact, he says, at around 7:15 into the video, he's thinking of giving up more children because he's still poor:

I will be giving up the children but not to become someone else's child. It's to help me. Not to become someone else's child. What good would that be to me if I give them away?

Here is the dilemma of international adoption in a nutshell. Melesech has a life that, to American eyes, looks far better than the life she had at home. The Roths clearly love her, and adopted her for the right reasons: they wanted to help needy orphans who had no family and no home. They chose one of the most upstanding and reputable adoption agencies, one of the three biggest players in the field: Children's Home Society & Family Services, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, which says that it doesn't pay its orphanages per child, but rather supports them unconditionally, no matter how many children are actually adoptable.

And yet when absurdly large amounts of money are exchanged between a wealthy country and a devastatingly poor country, here's what happens: unscrupulous middlemen scour the countryside and defraud poor families out of their children. Melesech clearly had a family. She was not an orphan (except by UNICEF's oddly expansive definition, which counts as an orphan any child who has lost either parent, even if that child is still living with the other parent). Some adoption solicitor either actively misled Melesech's father, or passively accepted the fact that the man was unable to comprehend the foreign concepts behind Western adoption, with its extremely counterintuitive idea of permanently severing family ties. Melesech's father's experience with child exchange would have been like that of most traditional cultures; he would be familiar with the model in which families send their children to live with richer families so that those children can later come home to help their birthfamilies. Poor nations often live on remittances. Promising family members are sent abroad on the understanding that that relative will send money back to help support the rest of the family.

Melesech's father's expectation was entirely reasonable. So was the Roths' expectation that they were saving a poor child whose family could no longer raise her, as that's the myth that gets perpetuated in the U.S.: the myth that there are millions of healthy orphans under age five who need new homes. Someone profited by exploiting the mismatch between the two.

Ethiopia's adoption program has had some serious scandals over the past few years. About a year and a half ago, I met and spoke with a minister from its Ministry of Women, Children, and Families, who seemed dedicated to cleaning the program up—but the minister may not have had enough internal support to overcome whatever profiteering or bribes might be circulating in the system. Similar things have happened in a series of countries, recently including Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, and most notoriously, Guatemala.

I reported on the problems in international adoption for several years, in a series of articles in publications that included Foreign PolicyThe Washington PostDemocracy Journal, and Slate. (You can read more about particular countries' adoption programs here.)

While Melesech's life is materially better, her adoption has not helped those left behind. Her birth family is still, quite literally, dirt poor. So is her country. Other parents are still at risk for dying of malaria, dysentery, and other preventable and treatable illnesses. What Ethiopians really need is a government that is not strangling its development, and forms of aid that actually reach and help individual families. Failing that, is it right to spirit some of their children away?

Here's the rule of thumb: If you can get a healthy infant or toddler within a year, don't adopt from that country. Adopt, instead, from American foster care, or from countries that send abroad very few children, and when they do, the children who are available are older, or disabled, or come in sibling groups, or otherwise have had trouble finding new local homes. Or if you're adopting for humanitarian reasons, donate that money an organization that helps children stay with their families, or brings clean water and mosquito nets and medicines to their villages. 

It's far more rewarding to love an individual child than to give to anonymous foreigners. I know; I'm parenting an adopted child. But no one wants to be complicit, even unknowingly, in defrauding a father out of his daughter. 

Comments

Following Hague Convention on inter-country adoption is the answer, not creating roadblocks to adoptions. That said:

#1. The "large sums of money" being exchanged occurs between private adoption agencies themselves in U.S. and their in-country affiliates...The Ethiopian government in particular has no part in running adoption business, and has in fact shut down many of these agencies in the past year.

And despite your unfortunate hyperlink to an old political blog article claiming Ethiopian government strangles development, that's contrary to IMF, World Bank and Economist Magazine who report Ethiopia as one of fastest growing economies (annual double-digit growth last 7 years).

#2. It's not a myth that there are millions of orphans in the world; the figure is actually 5.5 million according to United Nations Children’s Fund.

#3. Perplexed with your rule of thumb that says, "if you can get a healthy infant or toddler within a year, don't adopt from that country." I've never heard of someone asking for more bureaucracy, especially when a child has been languishing in an orphanage for months to years. Completion of legal and accurate documentation should be the only criteria.

You are correct that acceding to the Hague Convention would help children enormously. Perhaps I should instead suggest that people not adopt from any country that has not yet entered the convention.

#1. CHSFS is the agency here. They are supposed to one of the most reputable. And yet even they could not prevent an unscrupulous middleman from soliciting children from intact families, against the Hague Convention's explicit prohibition, leaving behind a family that expects its child to return. I am not blaming the Ethiopian government for this. This is a private enterprise problem. When disproportionate amounts of money are on offer in a poor country that does not have the infrastructure to regulate and oversee that direct exchange, bad things happen. Please see my reporting on how to fix it, which was endorsed by pro-adoption forces and ethics watchdogs alike: http://www.democracyjournal.org/17/6757.php?page=all. Or check here for specific recommended regulation changes, drawn from extensive reporting with key actors in international adoption, ranging from Trish Maskew, the founder of Ethica, to Tom DiFilippo at JCICS: http://www.brandeis.edu/investigate/adoption/regulationchanges.html

#2. I was very clear about what the myth is. The myth is that there are millions of healthy orphaned children under the age of five who need new homes. The vast majority of the UNICEF orphans are "single orphans" like Melesech; i.e., they have a living parent. Even the "double orphans" are usually living with other relatives. Even children in "orphanages" have often not been abandoned (exceptions include former Soviet bloc countries, which faces extremely different issues, and China.) Most "orphanages" in underdeveloped countries are actually boarding schools for poor children, where poor families leave their children for education and feeding during hard times, intending to bring them home when circumstances improve. 

The children who genuinely are in need of new homes are overwhelmingly older, in sibling groups, disabled or in great medical need of some kind. Very few people abandon healthy babies or toddlers, in the U.S. and elsewhere. If a particular country offers a steady and relatively quick stream of healthy under-five children to adopt, beware of that adoption source. Even in those countries, I learned in my reporting, the older, medically challenged children are sometimes solicited to order. Adopt from a country that has joined the Hague. 

There has been extensive reporting on the falsified documentation that has come out of Ethiopia. 

 

What Ethiopians really need is a government that is not strangling its development, and forms of aid that actually reach and help individual families. Failing that, is it right to spirit some of their children away?

I must say Mrs. Graf either does not now what she is talking about or is being poisoned with the elite diaspora who thinks Ethiopia is only one ethnic group. These people wants us to be like lawless Somaila. They are doing everything to get back power that they lost with the defeat of Mengistu and his socialist ideology. Yes, Ethiopia is poor and has been poor for generations but it is making a comeback on all sectors. Mrs. Graf, If you have access, please go and see for yourself what the facts are first hand. Some of the folks you are getting information will not stop until they see the country crumbles into pieces. They are working 24*7 with all our enemies from The fundamentalist Muslims to Eritrea.
Finally, I want to say that the government of Ethiopia would actually prefer that people don't adopt our children. God willing, we will one day take care of all our kids. However in any democratic system, if the family is experiencing hardship and wants to give it up, the government can only facilitate a legal and right framework for others to adopt. I am sure there may be issues here and there but saying that the process is flowed and no one needs to adopt a child from Ethiopia is a shame. I must say that it is a privilege to adopt an Ethiopian angel. You should be thankful too.
Thank you and God Bless all the innocent kids.

I never seen such kind of reckless writer and arrogant just because you could write means you could write , even though the story is true. Did you realize how many times did you the word "dirt" , she is coming America it doesn't mean good, may be she end up the letest casual oflesbian !

Ms. Graff, you write: "What Ethiopians really need is a government that is not strangling its development, and forms of aid that actually reach and help individual families. Failing that, is it right to spirit some of their children away?
Here's the rule of thumb: If you can get a healthy infant or toddler within a year, don't adopt from that country. "

I have been following your crusade against Ethiopian adoption for several years now, and would like to address the above two points in particular.

1) the government that Ethiopians really need has absolutely nothing to do with the one that they have. They need a lot of things, and halting international adoption is not going to make a bit of difference toward brining an end to the tyranny of the Meles government. I live in the real world, where Ethiopian children and adults die every day from malnutrition and disease. This is not going to stop any time soon.
2) if you work with a reputable agency, no one is "spiriting" a child away. Why must you use this incendiary language? Good agencies require birth family meetings. This does a lot to foster transparency. Why do you never mention this?
3) No one has adopted a healthy baby from Ethiopia in less than a year in a long time, at least not anyone working with a reputable agency. Our adoption took two years, and that was almost three years ago, and considered to be FAST. Now, it the process takes more than twice that long, but you do not mention that once. Adopting from Ethiopia is not, and never has been, fast.

But, why write a nuanced, thoughtful piece, when you can continue to bash away one-sidedly at the evils of international adoption using the most incendiary language possible? Oh, and yes, I am an adoptive parent, clearly, AND I do humanitarian work in ET, as so almost all of the adoptive parents I know. DO you ever write about that?

It's not a crusade. It's reporting on an extremely troubling situation. 

1. Adopting a few children will not end malnutrition and disease. It's much more satisfying to save a single child than a community, but it doesn't help those left behind. This is the language that was used for years by people who adopted out of Guatemala, whose adoption system has now been definitively exposed as corrupt to the core, with kidnappings, baby-buying, coercion, fraud, and other horrifying practices. Do read Erin Siegal's book Finding Fernanda. It's a cautionary tale for other adoption systems. Some of the worst actors noted in her book have moved to Ethiopia. 

It's absolutely wonderful that you do humanitarian work in Ethiopia. Not everyone does or can. Some people simply want to adopt a child. I am trying to alert them to the trends that ethics watchers have known for two decades, which suggest that a country's adoption system is not reliably protecting the vulnerable families left behind. Did you read the underlying Wall Street Journal story, or watch the heartbreaking video? 

I am passionately in favor of adoption. I adore my stepson, as you may have read elsewhere in this site. But I also care deeply about protecting all members of the triad, not just the Americans. 

I appreciate your reply. Of course this is a very complicated issue. I wrote you a 5 page letter in response to "The Lie We Love" back in 2009, and never heard back, so I do appreciate the opportunity to have a dialogue with you about this.

1) I absolutely KNOW that adopting a child will not end malnourishment and disease for anyone left behind. That was not our goal. However, in the case of my son, a true "double orphan" at the age of one (and, yes, this DOES happen), he required a feeding tube when he came into care. He was severely malnourished. His relatives were NOT able to feed him. Without adoption, or a MUCH stronger domestic social safety net, my son would have died. No question. There is no safety net in ET, and will not be one in the near future. My son is thriving now. Children will die if adoption ends. There is no doubt. What do you say to that?

2) Of course I read the WSJ article. I read everything I can on this topic, and the fact that there are middle-men was deeply troubling to me. Of course. It makes me sick. But, the need was real also. I don't know how to reconcile those two realities, except to hope that regulations will be tightened, more safeguards put into place, and that the bad agencies be closed.

3) We are deeply committed to doing humanitarian work in ET, for the rest of our lives, and will visit birth family members as soon as we think our son is old enough. It is a privilege to have this connection to ET, one that we are obligated and honored to make central to our lives. I know perhaps 100-200 families that have adopted from ET. Most that I know feel this way. One parent I know will work to raise money to build five schools in the next three years. One is already built. Learn more here: http://www.tesfa.org/ There are MANY examples I know of of parents deeply engaged on this level.

4) I also care passionately about all members of the adoption triad (and it's more than a triad in the ET context). That is why we went with an agency that had a solid reputation, where the wait times were long, and where we met with birth family members at the time of the adoption, and where on-going communication is encouraged. When we met with my son's relatives, and they saw photos of him, and saw that he was alive and growing stronger, they wept with relief. Was it a complicated situation? Of course. But their relief was palpable.

I should not have called your work a crusade. That was hyperbolic. However, I think that your reporting on ET adoption is one-sided, and you only focus on what is wrong. And, you have not answered my basic question of what about the children that will die, if, as you advise, no one adopts from ET? My son has a right to live, and to thrive.

Finally, I would argue that the domestic adoption system is not without moral and ethical concerns as well. While the potential informational and power asymmetries are not as great here, the vast majority of kids that are adopted in the US are not "true orphans" by any sense of the word, and most birth moms in the US give their children up because of poverty. Period. Why is no one up in arms about that? Foster care as a means to adoption means that the potential adoptive parents are rooting for the birth mom to fail and lose custody of her child. How ethical is that? I've seen it with a friend, and it's ugly.

There are two sides to the adoption story. And I think they both need to be covered, not just the "child trafficking, ET is rife with corruption" side. I know I am biased, but I know too many beautiful children that are thriving now, who will maintain connections to their ET families and culture, whose adoptive families waited YEARS to adopt them thru ethical agencies, not to want to read about that side of the story too.

I'm very sorry I never replied. We were swamped after that story came out, but we did try to reply to everyone (not necessarily me, but at lesat *someone* on staff, since getting that out was an all-staff effort). I apologize that yours got lost. 

Here's what I say about the one-sidedness: MANY people cover the joy of adoption. There are religious campaigns to get people to adopt. Infertility doctors advise families, at a certain point, to move on to adoption. There are lovely, moving, beautiful tributes in local newspapers when a child comes home. And all that is wonderful. I started doing my work because I was hearing horror stories that didn't see the light of day; news media coverage felt lopsided in the positive direction. Many people I know -- including someone in my own family -- went into international adoption unaware of the fraud and corruption that they could potentially encounter. During the years I covered adoption, my job was to be an investigative reporter, not a general features reporter. Investigative reporters find problems and expose them so they can be solved. In response to The Lie We Love, a Congressman's office started holding private hearings and drafting a bill to close some of the regulatory loopholes. I heard from a number of people who wrote that they had no idea, and as a result of reading my articles, had become alert to fraud markers--and were backing out of a relationship with a suspicious agency, or a particular adoption with red flags. 

I am so deeply glad to hear that you saved your child's life. That is absolutely the way adoption should be--not what has happened in the under-reported stories that I tell. And I think you & I agree on the solution: better regulation, accession to the Hague, elimination of middlemen, the construction of a genuine intra-country child welfare system, and so forth. It also sounds as if you agree with me: go with an agency with long wait times and a profoundly ethical reputation. Be wary if the agency promises that healthy infants (yours was not healthy, as you note) are coming quickly. Be wary of countries where the regulatory oversight appears lax. 

Many people have told me about problems in the domestic adoption system, and you are right, that desperately needs to be investigated. But I am worn out on adoption, which at its best is a joyous thing, a true mitzvah. I have gotten more anger at my reporting on fraud in int'l adoption than I ever did writing about gay issues. It's very hard to find editors who will let you write about it, because they mostly want to cover the good sides of adoption. People like you already think I'm on an anti-adoption crusade. I wish I could say I am impervious to the criticism, but I'm leaving domestic adoption for someone else to cover. There are other evils in the world, too, and my aim is to cover some of those other subjects next. 

Like I said, I have really enjoyed the opportunity yo have a dialogue with you about this, and I appreciate your perspective.

Just one final point: no matter how sick he was, if we hadn't adopted our son, someone else would have. We have NEVER said to anyone that we saved his life. On the contrary, I am pretty darn sure, after six years of infertility, he saved ours!

And now he's awake!!!

EJ: I do need to clarify one point.

I mentioned that our son was on a feeding tube when he came into care.

You said that we saved his life and the assumption would be that he was considered a special needs adoption by our agency, and not a "healthy" baby.

BUT this is NOT the case. There are three categories of potential health issues the adoptive children might have, according the the agency we worked with. Our son was considered healthy because his needs were not above and beyond what is typical of children when the come into care. There are NO children who would be considered healthy by western standards. Our son was not on any chart for height or weight until he has been in the US for one year. Some have terrible infectious diseases. Most are delayed on all developmental measures. My son weighed 17 lbs. at 14 months, had no teeth and no hair. And he was healthy. The other categories are "waiting children"--those with a known special need that will probably persist, and then there are those with serious special needs, such as cystic fibrosis or HIV.

So, talking about "healthy" babies has a different meaning entirely when talking about adopting from ET. There was a LONG list of serious conditions that we had been prepared for by our agency for our "healthy" baby. No sane or ethical person would go into this expecting a chubby, laughing baby. My son is healthy now, but children are not put into care by anyone in ET because all is well.

Bugsy-
You make many salient points. You also repeatedly criticize EJ's one-sidedness regarding Ethiopian adoptions. I can't help but notice your own one-sided approach to the issue of adoption from the foster care system. Based upon your experience with one friend, you write: Foster care as a means to adoption means that the potential adoptive parents are rooting for the birth mom to fail and lose custody of her child. How ethical is that?
Not only is your statement unfounded and completely false, but it's also offensive, and frankly, ridiculous. Foster parents are some of the strongest, most selfless folks around. They are rooting for kids and whatever outcome will help them fare best. They care for children and love them as their own under extremely challenging circumstances. Just as you belong to an extensive international adoption community, I know hundreds of foster families and foster-adopt families. Each one of these families, for the lifetime of each one of the children it fosters and/or adopts, is asked to delicately balance the unique needs of the child, sensitive communications with and the wishes of the birth family, a tremendous time/energy/financial commitment, and the complicated ongoing requirements of their state child welfare department, all while loving and parenting a very vulnerable child. It sounds like your friend faced a really difficult situation, and in your opinion, not very gracefully. People going into foster adoption situations should be aware of all possible outcome scenarios. Falling in love with one's foster child is a beautiful thing. And there is obviously heartache involved in saying goodbye. Sure, there are likely people who are incapable of maintaining appropriate boundaries as foster parents, and probably don't have what it takes to provide healthy foster placements. But when children must tragically be removed from the care of their biological parents, it is foster parents who open their doors 24 hours a day to make room for them in their homes and in their hearts. I have yet to see a foster family fighting to adopt a child who would otherwise return home to a healthy and safe environment. Foster parents do not even have any say in whether or not the state decides to terminate a parent's rights. Most kids that enter foster care are returned home within months, and adoption is never even discussed. Foster parents hoping to adopt children that are unable to return home are not fostering these kids. They are fostering kids who have already been identified as potentially needing permanent placements, after many unsuccessful attempts to support birthparents and reunite their families. Sometimes enough progress is made that these kids will get to return home. Sometimes that isn't possible and thanks to foster parents, a fraction of those kids are given the opportunity to move on and be part of a different family. Kids deserve this second chance, and in my opinion, people who are willing to endure the incredible demands of being foster parents deserve much more respect than you are offering. Rooting for what seems to be in the best interest of a child is not the same as rooting against a birthparent. Like you said, there are two sides -- and I’ll bet the ugliness you recollect from your friend’s situation has another side, as well. There are definitely two sides to every story.

from reading your post the only concern you've raised is the fact that the father of the adopted girl thinks she is coming back to hep the family out. if this is right i can explain to you what he meant by that. i'm hoping when the child is 18 years old she'll legally be able to know her background and find her biological family (if che chooses to). therefore when she sees/meets them the father is hoping that she'll help them out. just like the majority of Ethiopian who live overseas when they become successful and make it in the developed world they go back and help their families back home.
the reason i know this is because that's the mentality of our people (and a good one at that). this does not mean he doesn't understand his daughter has been adopted and that there might be a possibly she may never come back to find them.

from reading your post the only concern you've raised is the fact that the father of the adopted girl thinks she is coming back to hep the family out. if this is right i can explain to you what he meant by that. i'm hoping when the child is 18 years old she'll legally be able to know her background and find her biological family (if che chooses to). therefore when she sees/meets them the father is hoping that she'll help them out. just like the majority of Ethiopian who live overseas when they become successful and make it in the developed world they go back and help their families back home.
the reason i know this is because that's the mentality of our people (and a good one at that). this does not mean he doesn't understand his daughter has been adopted and that there might be a possibly she may never come back to find them.

Ms. Graff,
All the critics to your article above are most probably government agents who are assigned for this solely task; attack any writer who criticizes the government.
Your point is well taken. Why are Ethiopians very poor and want to give away their children? As you describe it "What Ethiopians really need is a government that is not strangling its development and forms of aid that actually reach and help individual families". The current government is a Mafia like government who kills & arrests people for expressing their opinion. In a nutshell Ethiopia had bad governments and we have now the worst. This government doesn’t care about the country and its people, except political power and amassing wealth for the few.

Kiros,
The article is about adoption in Ethiopia. I am glad you took Ms Graffs point well. What surprises me is some western citizens and specially some Americans think they are the only ones who can think objectively and know everything (I am not joking but some also think that they are more Christian than us, poor Ethiopians) . They never admit that they are the ones who are poisoning our culture. I am not exaggerating this but I think the majority of adoption related bad incidents were involving westerners paying some bribe to expedite their adoption process. The fact that Ms Graff blaming the government is one sided. It would be nice if she also writes about the bad apples that go there to buy a child.

My main concern is how do we know the people adopting the children are treating the children well and that they don't have other motives for adopting 'poor Ethiopian children'. How do we know these children once they reach America they are been cared for, loved and nurtured and not been abused in any way.
I really need to know that there are systems in place to make sure the children are well and safe.I have TWO relatives who have been adopted by an American family, we know nothing just that they are in America somewhere. I worry about them a lot. can somebody explain to me what measures are taken by the American government to ensure the safety of the adopted children. please!!!
i must emphasis i'm not accusing any adoptees of having bad intention. But should they do what are the measures are taken to ensure the safety of the children.

My main concern is how do we know the people adopting the children are treating the children well and that they don't have other motives for adopting 'poor Ethiopian children'. How do we know these children once they reach America they are been cared for, loved and nurtured and not been abused in any way.
I really need to know that there are systems in place to make sure the children are well and safe.I have TWO relatives who have been adopted by an American family, we know nothing just that they are in America somewhere. I worry about them a lot. can somebody explain to me what measures are taken by the American government to ensure the safety of the adopted children. please!!!
i must emphasis i'm not accusing any adoptees of having bad intention. But should they do what are the measures are taken to ensure the safety of the children.

Ms. Graf,
Please keep up speaking the truth. There are many who agree with you until Ethiopia become party to Hague Convention, would be parents should not be adopting from Ethiopia. Normally, problems related to international adoptions wither to large extent once a country become party to the Hague Convention. That was the case with Russia, Ukraine, China etc who were once popular destinations for international adoption. Once these countries joined the Hague Treaty influx of adopting parents from the West to these countries dropped drastically as the process of international adoption takes longer time and agencies who only meet international standards were allowed to operate. If the Ethiopian Government really has the intention of cleaning up the bad actors and streamline the process it would sign the Hague agreement. I really doubt it has such intention. I don't buy the argument that the middlemen are to blame not the government. What is holding the Governments hand from becoming party to Hague Convention, unless the people who are earning hard currency to themselves and to the government are politically connected individuals if not the business enterprises of the ruling party? Honchos at the helm of the government know for sure becoming party to the convention would mean drastic cut in number of would be parents who want to adopt from Ethiopia which translates to less hard currency earned. Please keep digging further and you will see this fact becoming visibly apparent.

As an adoptee trafficked from his place of birth in 1963, I am blown away by the fact that almost 50 years later we are still having this discussion. Ms. Graf, thank you for your voice and coverage of this issue which, as those of us who raise our voices against adoption are aware, means dismissal and retaliation from the compradors in Ethiopia and elsewhere who are making money by trafficking their own countrymen and women.

But I would ask that we extend this further, since, for example, Ethiopia is also now known for dispossessing people from their lands in order to sell farmland to Gulf Arabs. This dispossession, displacement, trafficking, all have the same economic and political sources, which tie into adoption being a formalized indentured servitude originally, having little to do with family creation. That we still speak of this great violence as simply needing "reform" is a testament to those who have marketed something so ignoble into something that few are willing to argue against.

The last word will belong to those of us (at Transracial Eyes, for example) who have returned to our lands of birth, have experienced the excruciatingly impossible journey back, and who are standing up in the face of the great violence and injustice that adoption represents. There is no other way to describe it, and there is no way to justify it. The political and economic systems of a given class of people that create "orphans" can in no way be seen as valid when they come in to "rescue" said children. This is the pyromaniac firefighter revealed; stinking of gasoline; holding a burnt-out match.

As someone who has worked in the international adoption field, I'd have to say you've got it right. Over the past 10-15 years, adoption agencies have become entrepreneurs/businesspeople who use unscrupulous local middlemen to buy babies for us. Adoption advocates in the U.S. see happy families. The reality in developing countries, such as Nepal, Vietnam and Guatemala, is very different. Once the agency gets the adoptive families to bond with prospective child, they've got them.

Your advice is right on: If an agency offers you a healthy baby, there are almost certainly irregularities. Even in the poorest countries, there is sufficient demand for healthy babies among local families. The reason these babies are routed toward foreigners is purely financial.

Adopt older, sibling groups, special needs. The child will be an untainted orphan, and you will be doing something truly humanitarian.

This is a pathetic peace of writing. You are adapting a child not a dog. You are equally responsible in making sure that she doesn't have a family. You are simply an idiot for thinking you are giving a better life for a kid who already has a family. No matter how much you can offer, you can never give the nature given love that a biological parent gives. What a hypocrite you are for acting as if you are doing all this just out of charity. Both the adopted child and the adopting parents always benefit equally. One last point, I feel sorry for the kid you will be raising cause you don't even have the decency to respect her background or even try to know more about it.

After reading this article, I was deeply saddened and disappointed at the same time. It was written in a way that lacks decency. I was offended when I saw how many times the writer used the word dirty but then I asked myself am I being emotional, or is this article really misrepresenting me. The answer that came to my head was: yes, many children are malnourished in Ethiopia. Yes, many don't get enough health care and the number is so high to an extent that it has become easier for most of us to choose not to see it and not even think about it. But this doesn't mean it is better for any kid whose parents are poor to be adopted by rich foreigners. Living in a mud walled hut besides the chickens, pounding grains and building fire in what the writer called a dirty floor, doesn't mean they need to be shipped of their home land. So, yeah the article is juvenile and not well thought out. But should I be surprised if some person who doesn't have any clue of our social life, our culture or simply our way of living to have a misguided understanding and had the nerves to write an article about it. Absolutely not! But it is a call for our attention that our children (all Ethiopians children who are getting adopted) are getting help from the most convinient source. In my opinion, a lot of work should be done in encouraging Ethiopians to adopt children. It might be discouraging regarding how much many of us struggle in making ends meet but history has it that poverty never stands on our way in maintaining our identity

unfortunately, weygud demonstrates how polarized international adoption has become.

Wegud, like many anti-adoptionist, 3rd worldist on the left, seem to believe you deprive a child of his culture when you allow foreigners from the richer countries to adopt and raise him. This is patently ridiculous. Most of the richer countries of the world, such as Canada, the U.S., Australia and increasingly Europe, are immigrant societies themselves. There is no reason to keep a child as an orphan in the developing world poverty if he can find loving parents elsewhere.

On the other hand, we see increasing extremists on the pro-adoption side, Both Ends Burning and lawyers like Kelly Enslin, within the richer societies who cling to the fantasy that there are unlimited amounts of healthy infant orphans in the developing world just waiting for adoption by foreigners. Also patently ridiculous. These activists prey on infertile couples desperate to get their baby.

It is helpful to have some voices in the "middle," pro-international adoption but under the following circumstances: a) biological family gives up child of free will and without pressure, b) domestic adoption options exhausted, and c) fees kept to a minimum. As I mentioned above, you won't get a healthy baby but you'll get a wonderful child.

weygud, as a foster parent in the US, the idea that no one can replace the love of a biological parent is beyond absurd and just plain wrong. I see children everyday who are physically, emotionally, and often sexually violated by their biological parents. Biology offers no assurance of love and caring. I have to excuse myself now as I just received a call from DCF to take a child
whose mother just tried to sell him for crack money.

Bugsy-
You make many salient points. You also repeatedly criticize EJ's one-sidedness regarding Ethiopian adoptions. I can't help but notice your own one-sided approach to the issue of adoption from the foster care system. Based upon your experience with one friend, you write: Foster care as a means to adoption means that the potential adoptive parents are rooting for the birth mom to fail and lose custody of her child. How ethical is that?
Not only is your statement unfounded and completely false, but it's also offensive, and frankly, ridiculous. Foster parents are some of the strongest, most selfless folks around. They are rooting for kids and whatever outcome will help them fare best. They care for children and love them as their own under extremely challenging circumstances. Just as you belong to an extensive international adoption community, I know hundreds of foster families and foster-adopt families. Each one of these families, for the lifetime of each one of the children it fosters and/or adopts, is asked to delicately balance the unique needs of the child, sensitive communications with and the wishes of the birth family, a tremendous time/energy/financial commitment, and the complicated ongoing requirements of their state child welfare department, all while loving and parenting a very vulnerable child. It sounds like your friend faced a really difficult situation, and in your opinion, not very gracefully. People going into foster adoption situations should be aware of all possible outcome scenarios. Falling in love with one's foster child is a beautiful thing. And there is obviously heartache involved in saying goodbye. Sure, there are likely people who are incapable of maintaining appropriate boundaries as foster parents, and probably don't have what it takes to provide healthy foster placements. But when children must tragically be removed from the care of their biological parents, it is foster parents who open their doors 24 hours a day to make room for them in their homes and in their hearts. I have yet to see a foster family fighting to adopt a child who would otherwise return home to a healthy and safe environment. Foster parents do not even have any say in whether or not the state decides to terminate a parent's rights. Most kids that enter foster care are returned home within months, and adoption is never even discussed. Foster parents hoping to adopt children that are unable to return home are not fostering these kids. They are fostering kids who have already been identified as potentially needing permanent placements, after many unsuccessful attempts to support birthparents and reunite their families. Sometimes enough progress is made that these kids will get to return home. Sometimes that isn't possible and thanks to foster parents, a fraction of those kids are given the opportunity to move on and be part of a different family. Kids deserve this second chance, and in my opinion, people who are willing to endure the incredible demands of being foster parents deserve much more respect than you are offering. Rooting for what seems to be in the best interest of a child is not the same as rooting against a birthparent. Like you said, there are two sides -- and I’ll bet the ugliness you recollect from your friend’s situation has another side, as well. There are definitely two sides to every story.

Reading the comments to this article was as educating as reading the article. Everyone had good points. On the one hand, choosing not to adopt from Ethiopia because of the corruption in the industry--the horrible, widespread corruption--sounds like tossing the baby out with the bath water (no horrible pun intended). On the other hand, deciding to adopt an Ethiopian baby, and going into an adoption with an unteachable mindset that is not open to warnings and cautions suggests some amount of reckless selfishness.

I will admit our American family feels a call to adopt from Ethiopia, but I will also admit we feel called to adopt a special-needs child, or an older child (a sibling set, actually, if possible). Is doing good in a tragically corrupt system really entirely black and white, yes or no, do it or don't? Or are there shades of grey? Because no one can deny children are dying in orphanages of treatable diseases or malnutrition, or both...children who will live instead, if they are adopted. Since these children are not going to be returned to their biological families this week, this month, this year or next year (maybe someday soon, though, if we do something about the corruption in the system), shall we let them die instead of sending them to a loving family with three square meals a day in a more prosperous nation?

I do not deny there are stolen babies and deceived Ethiopian parents, who lovingly and capably raise their children, and it breaks my heart. To the best of my ability I will stay far away from this situation. But there are also children with two HIV+ parents (or just one now), and I am ready to walk the tightrope that hangs thin as a strand of hair over the middlemen and deception, and do everything in my power to provide love for a genuine orphan. I will keep a girl from being trapped into life as a sex-slave in Addis Ababa, and a boy from growing up without a father, without a family. And I will do this with orphans from Ethiopia.

Rather than say "Avoid this country, go to that one," perhaps we should say "If you go to this country, be aware of these situations, and avoid them by...."? More people win: the parents, the waiting true orphans, and the intact families.

Some one commented earlier that a person can't love an adopted child the same way their biological parents can. I disagree. I am white and have 3 biological children, and I know what it's like to love them. I also have 3 adopted children: white, black, and Asian. I can speak from experience and confirm that I love, respect, and would die for my adopted children the same way as I would for the biological ones. Though I feel strong emotion for all of my children, love is not a feeling it's an act of the will.

I seriously wish that random writers and bloggers on the internet would not take whatever article they can find and sue that information to write their own commentary. I personally know this child and her family. I am a parent of a daughter adopted from Ethiopia of similar age to this child and from the same community. There are a couple issues with culture in Ethiopia that Americans need to understand. First off it is a very old custom in Ethiopia and most African countries to give your child away to another family if you cannot take care of him or her. In these situations, the children are not going to loving adoptive families they are going into a accepted form of cultural slavery where the kids work for the new family in order to be fed, housed and clothed. They do not go to school and have what we as Americans would consider a normal childhood. If these parents did not have the option of placing their child for adoption then they would revert back to this cultural practice. I suspect that this is what has happened to one of our adoptive daughter's older siblings and we will never be able to find her. She will be lost in Ethiopia to the fate of work and early marriage. Birth parents are informed of what happens when they relinquish a child for adoption. It is not really any surprise that they would say whatever they needed to try and get money from reporters or adoptive parents after the fact. This is why the US gov states that no contact is to occur between the adoptive parents and birth family either before or after the international adoption. For the exact reason of preventing "child buying". The birth family is not supposed to benefit from placing their child for adoption as this article indicates. If they did, then they would in fact be being bribed to give their child away for a monetary benefit. Anyone who knows families who have adoptive from Ethiopia knows that most of us are very committed to teaching our children about their homeland. We have already taken our daughter back to visit Ethiopia. We, like many other adoptive parents, also regularly donate to NGOs that are working on the ground to improve conditions for families in Ethiopia. None of us are naive enough to think that adoption is the answer to solving third world poverty. But we can give one child a chance while also giving back to that country. Please, please educate yourselves about these complicated issues before writing a article like this or making comments that are cruel to the children, birth families and adoptive families caught in the middle of your opinions.

Cross-cultural communication is always difficult. The "truth" can be elusive. As a North American who has lived in Africa, perhaps I take away from the Wall Street Journal video a different perspective. I am not saying my perspective is correct. No one can say that. However, I do think my perspective is worth considering.
According to this story, the journalist tracks down the child's Ethiopian family. We are shown members of the family--father and siblings--holding photos of the child who is now in the US. I don't find it surprising at all that the father, in that situation, would speak about seeing his daughter again, about receiving financial support from the adoptive family, and probably most importantly, presenting himself as having assumed from the time that he relinquished the child, he believed she would return to her Ethiopian family, in order to help him, presumably as the major breadwinner for the family. He asks, why else would I let her go? The adoptive mother says she was not apprised of these kind of comments from the father at the time of the adoption.
My perspective is that what the father is saying on camera is not surprising under the extraordinary circumstances (for him) of being interviewed and filmed by WSJ but it is not necessarily an accurate reflection of what he was thinking at the time of the adoption. People living on the edge of a day to day struggle for existence will consider utilizing any opportunity presented to them that holds a promise of making their lives better. Presumably, the father is speaking from this vantage point. However, it does not guarantee that this is what he said or thought at the time he gave up his daughter for adoption. The situation at the time of the adoption was, presumably, quite different from what was going on when the WSJ camera crew and interviewers showed up, with photos etc. And that is one of the critical points in considering this story. Criticism is leveled at adoptive families for their naivete, for accepting what they are told at face value. But, in fact, is that not exactly what the Wall Street journalist is asking us to do? Take the father's comments that are quoted in this blog at face value? I would suggest to the discerning viewer to go back and watch the video again, and compare an earlier comment made by the father with the one highlighted in this article, that was made 7 minutes into the video. You will notice a difference.

Hello Every i am Judith from Houston Texas i came to this site to share my testimony i got married for 15 years without giving birth but life was miserable for me so i decided to adopt a baby while i was browsing on the internet i saw a great man called Dr Dave i explain all my problems to him and he help me adopt a boy and a girl from South Africa . Now i am happy with my husband and my two children so if you are in similar situation kindly contact Dr Dave on email (daveangela08@gmail.com) and get your baby today ....

This kind of country must be dealt with, if there is kind of scum in the area then UN or UNICEF must do something about it. While we can see the help from abroad probably this money that will arrive at the parents who agree with the adoption I think they are harass by the adoption agency in that area. This does not help the poor family in the area.

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Nothing new year, Western people have been doing this for quite some time, presuming to know what's best for other people, causing confusion and confliction all over the world. A similar story was the situation in Haiti, so I'm not surprised with this. I think it's up to the government of these poorer countries to protect its people's, it doesn't take rocket science nor millions of dollars to do it. - Steve Knight

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