The NGO Against Child Trafficking investigating a string of adoption proceedings for a Dutch agency, they found scores of illegal and unethical conditions.
by Dorrit SAIETZ
How does it work in reality, when Ethiopian families give their children away to adoptive parents abroad? The Danes got a glimpse of it through the film ‘Mercy, Mercy – adoption come at a price’.
But is it an isolated and very unfortunate event, or does it happens all the time? Adoption agencies are not normally able to seek out the biological parents and ask how they have experienced adoption.
But three years ago researcher Arun Dohle from the NGO Against Child Trafficking succeeded to track down a number of randomly selected families who had all adopted children through the Dutch adoption agency Wereldkinderen.
“At first I saw ten files.
Already there I found examples of problems.
For example, in the legal report the parents were dead, while there were letters from the biological mother in the file, “says Arun Dohle. “Then I pushed on: If you say, your papers are in order, it can not hurt to let us check them.” Arun Dohle selected 25 random files from adoptions that had taken place in the period 2004-2009. And so he traveled to Ethiopia. Wereldkinderen’s local office was not to know. The research should be unannounced and independent.
Along with an Ethiopian/Dutch social worker, he sought out and interviewed the families one by one. We managed to contact 19 of the 25 families.
No help for families
Even in cases where the papers at first glance appeared to be in order, there were many details that are not correct as they were cross-checked with the families: For example, parents were dead, even though they were alive. There was evidence that it was a grandpa or an aunt who had given the child away for adoption without the right parents’ knowledge or consent. Some parents were serene and pleased to have given up for adoption their children, others were unhappy and regretted. But there was not a single case where, as required by law, it was examined whether children could be helped in Ethiopia or had tried to support the family in keeping the children.
One mother told me that one of the orphanages paid fixed monthly salary to people in the villages to find children for adoption. Another said that Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian representative had asked for eight children from her village, but that they only had a total of six. Therefore, they asked her to also give his sister’s child for adoption.
She had three days to decide.
The mother was away, but heard about the adoption when she came back and tried to complain, but to no avail.
“There were many indications that there are criminal networks involved in the adoption process.
Neither the judiciary nor the government was able to monitor adoptions, “said Arun Dohle.
Several of the orphanage, Wereldkinderen worked with, were involved in illegal activities.
Also some of the new cases of children who were on their way to adoption seemed to be based on incorrect information. The Ethiopian social worker was so shocked about one of them, that she slowed down the adoption and returned the child to the mother.
So it all exploded
“Wereldkinderen’s local boss discovered that I was in Ethiopia, and so began the threats. She would report me to the Ethiopian immigration authorities or the police, “says Arun Dohle, who was forced to leave the country prematurely.
The report was therefore incomplete, but back home in Holland, Wereldkinderen initially welcomed the disturbing information and promised to make every effort to investigate and stop any irregularities.
But when the final report was be ready, the tone changed: Now, Wereldkinderen visited Ethiopia and discussed the study’s revelations with the Ethiopian authorities.
“And the good news is that they want improvements, and that they will assess orphanages and rebuke those who do not comply with the rules and guidelines,” writes Wereldkinderen’s director to ACT.
“So we ask you not to share details of the report or give copies to other parties or organizations,” writes the director.
ACT protested, but agreed to wait. And they waited. Long.
“They stayed and stayed on it,” Arun Dohle. Wereldkinderen is the secretariat of the European association of adoption agencies Euradopt, and German and Belgian authorities begin to ask for the study. “We found that we could no longer keep the secret, if we continue to call ourselves an organization that fights child trafficking,” said Arun Dohle.
In February 2011, ACT therefore put the report on the Internet. ‘Fruits of Ethiopia – Inter-Country Adoption: The Rights of the Child, or the Harvesting of Children?’ is today widely quoted by scholars and experts in the debate on adoption from Ethiopia, by offering a unique insight into the processes underlying the adoption.
The answer from Wereldkinderen came in the form of a threat of legal action and demands for a massive financial compensation.
“Fine, I said. Let’s meet in court, because I have a lot more material, I would like to present, “said Arun Dohle.
There was no lawsuit. But on its website Wereldkinderen denounces the report, and adoptions from Ethiopia continue.
dorrit.saietz @ pol.dk