Adoption Fraud and the Ethiopian Government’s Response
By Yosef Yacob | March 18, 2011



Along with the increasing number of abandoned children placed in orphanages in Addis Ababa, allegations of unethical practices and fraud associated with some of the international adoptions have grown dramatically.

Citing the unprecedented rise in the number of children being brought for international adoption, on May 4, 2009, the Ethiopian First Instance Court was obliged to indefinitely suspend accepting cases involving abandoned children referred to it by orphanages in Addis Ababa. The Court clarified that the suspension only applied to children from private (non-governmental organizations) orphanages in Addis Ababa.

Notwithstanding the suspension of private placements, the Court continued to process international adoptions involving cases of abandoned children from Addis Ababa government orphanages. These include the following orphanages:

  • Kebebe Tsehay Orphanage
  • Ketchene Orphanage
  • Kolfe Youth Center

Since 2009, the media accounts surrounding alleged fraud involving adoption of children from certain countries including, among others, Ethiopia continues to be very troubling. Direct recruitment of children from birth parents by adoption service providers or their employees has been documented and reported widely in the United States and in Ethiopia. If undeterred, the present abuses will invite legal, social, economic, psychological, and political consequences of great magnitude.

The anticipated increase in the number of adoptions and a cursory review of sentiments in countries such as Ethiopia demonstrates that the status quo has raised significant international and national anxiety, grievance, and protests over values. Such protests have now led countries such as Australia and others to act with great caution and consideration.

Therefore, we commend the Ethiopian Government’s recent assurance of a thorough investigation of documented cases of adoption fraud for prompt prosecution and further praise the leadership’s intention to strengthen the legislative framework and Ethiopia’s institutional capacity to protect children and families from exploitation by unscrupulous agencies and brokers.

However, in light of the seriousness of recent contentions, the Government’s response, although measured, is not sufficient. Persistent accounts of fraud and child trafficking have infuriated the Ethiopian Diaspora community, in the United States, and are therefore deserving of extra attention by Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs.

It should also be noted that the Ethiopian faith and intellectual communities continue to raise misgivings and question the moral, ethical and cultural implications surrounding the uninhibited adoption of Ethiopian children by families in the United States. Further, the Ethiopian community, both in the US and in Ethiopia, perceives complicity by the US and Western governments in ignoring the escalating allegations of fraudulent adoptions and unlawful trafficking of Ethiopian children, particularly to the US.

Consequently, absent a decisive and manifest reaction by the concerned governments, a deleteriously outcome which will adversely affect the historically positive attitude and reverence of the Ethiopian people towards the United States is predictable.

Moreover, in many cultures, accustomed to having maids and servants, an elderly person, in particular, usually has an exclusive young “aid” to tend to their needs, run errands, tend to personal needs, act as the eyes and ears of the elderly person, etc. Traditionally, the relationship is not formalized in the form of an adoption but based upon an informal arrangement with the child’s family in consideration for “raising” the child and providing a home, food, and shelter for the child and nominal payments to the parents for the services … a form of indentured servitude.

In the context of contemporary demands, either the elderly petitioner will seek to bring such a helper as an “adopted child” or in some instances, the adult son or daughter will seek to bring the “aid” as an adopted child to cater to an elderly parent. Indeed, it is not atypical in such cases to often bring relatives such as nieces, nephews, grandchildren, because of the element of trust and the presumed advantage to the beneficiary of coming to the US.

This phenomenon will intensify as the immigrant population ages and they and their families discover that having an “aid” to elderly immigrants is an option to the significant economic and cultural adjustments required to settle in a retirement, nursing, or foster care home.

Remember, one half to two thirds of all immigrants to Colonial America arrived as indentured servants. At times, as many as 75% of the population of some colonies were under terms of indenture. Sometimes an “adoption” can be a device for securing an indentured servant.

Hence, I am obliged, as an Ethiopian –American to respectfully urge the Ethiopian Government to promptly suspend the authority of every entity alleged to have engaged in improprieties, pending the conclusion of the formal investigations. Suspension of authority pending investigations is complementary and should be contemporaneous. Moreover, such a reaction will supply further confidence to mitigate the effects of the rage which is very apparent in the Ethiopian community as well as freeze any further illegal acts pending further scrutiny an prosecution.

Further, I respectfully urge the Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs to hastily lead in the appropriate steps to reinforce the present adoption system in Ethiopia [legislation, jurisdiction, policy, and procedures]. Among other initiatives, Ethiopia’s position concerning the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention), though understandable, should be revisited, to at the very least consider, the protective provisions which are calculated to minimize abuse and not presently incorporated in the Ethiopian Family Code.

The interests of children who are legally adoptable as well as the affections and generosity of those loving families who wish to provide homes for those who might otherwise be deprived a decent life is compelling. Equally, the angry sentiments and the frustration of those who perceive the affected governments as complicit by ignoring documented allegations of unlawful and unethical trafficking of Ethiopian children cannot be ignored.

As a formerly practicing attorney, and therefore expert familiarity with the Ethiopian and US Civil and Family Codes, and as an international lawyer I am also cognizant of the limitations and personally aware of untold abuses which take place in the context of the thousands of private adoptions that by-pass scrutiny by following local rather than international adoption procedures,

However, no one can credibly argue that reported and documented exploitation of children and their vulnerable biological parents by deceitful agencies and agent should not be without severe consequence.


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