The Hand That Rocks the Broken Cradle

The old children’s rhyme goes:

Rock-a-by baby upon the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down comes the cradle with baby and all.

Well, there is no doubt the bough from the Tree of Life has broken and the cradle fallen in the adoption and child welfare system in Ethiopia.

The latest horror story comes in the form of a shocking crime committed against two recently adopted Ethiopian children — one barely 2 and the other 4 years old — by their French parents. According to French police, the four-year-old was brought to the hospital for treatment of injuries sustained in a “fall”. Doctors quickly determined the injuries were the result of sexual molestation. Further inquiry established the 2-year-old had also suffered similar injuries. Both children remain hospitalized. Both adoptive parents are in jail — the father for rape and violence, and the mother for failure to report a crime.

The preliminary evidence shows the childless couple had brought their adopted children to Yssingeaux, a small south central French town in Haute-Loire, just a few weeks ago. The adoption was approved by Ethiopian authorities, who for some inexplicable reason had ignored some obvious red flags. The adoptive father had a police record for domestic violence. A report in the local Le Journal de Saone-et-Loire newspaper also suggested the adoptive “parents are somewhat limited intellectually.”

The reaction of the adoption bureaucrats in Addis Ababa to the tragedy was cold and emotionless. Mahdre Bitew, a functionary in the Women’s Affairs ministry, told VOA’s Tizeta Balachew with complete sang-froid that her office was informed of the “problem” involving the children by the Ethiopian Embassy in Paris. She said her office was waiting for further instructions from the embassy on what to do next. But as to foreign adoptions, Bitew said matter-of-factly that such children can be adopted by foreigners and have a chance of a better life, or die from neglect as orphans and street waifs in Ethiopia.

Tesfaye Kebede, the local representative of the French adoption agency defended the adoption process, and repeatedly underscored the fact that the adoptive couple had “been found mentally and physically” fit by the French authorities. He expressed his regrets over the circumstances of the children, but dodged any responsibility by insisting that his job was mainly to make sure the French adoption paperwork was in order. Both Bitew and Kebede emphasized the fact that sexual molestation of Ethiopian children in intercountry adoptions is very rare. The inattentive listener could easily mistake the interview of these bureaucrats as a conversation with commodities traders on the Chicago Board of Trade on a bad day than officials involved in caring for the most vulnerable children from one of the poorest countries in the world.

The Inhofe Syndrome or the Problem of Throwaway Children in Ethiopia

No one has described the desperate circumstances of Ethiopian children, particularly girls, better than Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, a staunch defender of the Meles regime in the United States Senate. Last October, in a highly publicized speech in the U.S. Senate, Inhofe described how his daughter was forced to adopt an Ethiopian baby girl to literally save her from the mouths of ravenous dogs. Inhofe recounted:

In Addis six years ago, we found a little baby. The little baby was 3 days old. The baby was almost dead. And it is not unusual in some countries in Africa to throw away mostly young girls. And after 3 days when they die, the dogs get them. We were there before the dogs got her. And this little girl, I have 20 kids and grand kids that I am very, very proud of. My daughter Molly had nothing but boys. She always wanted to have a girl. And so we were able to take this girl from Ethiopia and nurture her back to health. She had several very close calls. She is healthy and she is now been here in the U.S., and she is my adopted granddaughter.

Despite Senator Inhofe’s grotesque and crude characterizations, he seems to understand that there is something fundamentally wrong in the child welfare system in Ethiopia today. What Inhofe described is shocking to the conscience because, if true, it is a devastating indictment of the Meles regime for standing by idly while Ethiopian children are becoming dog chow. Given Inhofe’s testimony, could anyone be surprised if Ethiopian children are victims of sexual molestation in intercountry adoptions? The point is that the vast majority of Ethiopian children from poor families are at extreme risk; and Ethiopia is in danger of fast becoming the “most-child-unfriendly-country-in the-world.”

The regime gives very little attention to children’s issues. As a result, foreign adoptions are basically unregulated; and orphaned, abandoned and impoverished children are often victimized by “child brokers”. The available data and analyses show that international adoptions from Ethiopia have increased dramatically in recent years. Ethiopia is now second only to China in the number of children placed with agencies that are members of EurAdopt; and the fourth largest country of origin of adopted children in the United States.

There is no follow-up done by the regime to find out the status of adopted Ethiopian children once they are thrown into the intercountry adoptions system. But there is substantial anecdotal evidence to show that not all is well with them. For instance, there are reports in the U.S. of abandoned adoptees, adoptees who have developed severe behavioral problems as a result of abuse and neglect often resulting in contact with the juvenile justice system, adoptees who have suffered reactive attachment disorder (inability to bond with a parent and consequently inability to sustain a healthy relationship with anyone), and others who have fallen prey to substance abuse and other serious anti-social behavior.

But the adoption problem has an even darker flipside, child trafficking. According to Yitnaw Getachew, country program coordinator for the International Organization for Migration, child trafficking in Ethiopia could number in the tens of thousands. Getachew explained to a VOA reporter recently that children are snatched from poor rural families by unscrupulous brokers who promise employment and a better life. Getachew said, “Brokers go into the rural areas and then deceive children; tell them that they will take them to big cities where they will have education, better life, and then sort of kidnap them and take them to the next big city where there are bus stations, and then bring them to Addis here.”

Child trafficking is a very profitable business in Ethiopia fetching as much as $800 USD for children sent abroad. According to one study, every year thousands of girls and women are trafficked from Ethiopia to various Middle Eastern countries, including Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Many of the underage girls end up in prostitution despite promises of work as maids; and a significant percentage of those employed as maids are subjected to sexual and physical abuse by their employers. A number of them have committed suicide, according to recent reports. Such trafficking is said to be facilitated by a cottage industry of document fabrication which cranks out false birth certificates, identity cards, and other bogus official documents.

One of the direct effects of the child trafficking problem is the festering problem of street children, estimated in the hundreds of thousands throughout the country. One study pegged the number of street children in Addis Ababa alone at approximately 50,000 to 60,000. These children are considered highly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor.

Regime Indifference and Incompetence in Dealing With Child Adoption/ Traffciking Problems

The remarkable fact about the problem of child adoptions/trafficking is that the regime in Ethiopia has all the legal tools necessary to stop it. For instance, the “constitution” of Ethiopia prohibits trafficking in human beings for any purpose. The Penal Code imposes a 5-10 year prison term for trafficking in “women, infants, and young persons” through seduction, enticement, or any means to induce them into prostitution, even if they have consented. Pimping, pandering, procuring and maintaining a “disorderly house” is a criminal offense subject to penalties. “Promoting immorality” and being convicted of a “crime involving moral turpitude” in a foreign country or in Ethiopia is a basis for exclusion or deportation of aliens. Obviously, if the regime wants to stamp out child trafficking and ensure a proper intercountry adoption system, it can do so easily using the legal tools avalable to it.

But the regime is more interested in window dressing than dealing with the real problems. According to one report, the regime recently established a task force to combat child trafficking by investigating, arresting and prosecuting child snatchers and traffickers. Some NGOs have reportedly joined the effort to reunite the child victims recovered by the task force with their families. But according to Addis Ababa Police Captain Atsede Wordofa, there is little money or manpower to undertake a serious effort to prosecute the racketeers in child trafficking, or to provide for family reunification of child victims on a wider scale. Wordofa said the task force effort would not make a dent in the enormous problem of child trafficking in the country.

Not To Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater

The enormity of the issues adversely impacting Ethiopian children can hardly be understated. We are not unmindful of the fact that the spread of HIV-AIDS, famine and poverty, among other factors, have impacted poor rural families beyond the breaking point, leaving large numbers of children without proper caretakers and vulnerable to traffickers. No doubt, foreign adoptions offer life-saving opportunities to children who would otherwise face a bleak future.

What we find very deplorable is the manifest indifference of the regime to deal with issues that expose millions of Ethiopian children to extreme risk. Many countries faced with situations similar to Ethiopia have taken decisive action. For instance, China has drastically changed its adoptions process, among other things, by restricting adoptions only to those agencies that carry out follow-up visits. Ukraine adoptive families in the U.S. are now subject to inquiry from the Ukraine Embassy, and follow-up reports are prepared to ensure the welfare of adoptees. Vietnam has limited adoptions only to those countries that enter into specific agreements with it. Even Kazakhstan has stopped independent adoptions, and will work only with authorized agencies that do follow-up reporting on adopted children. Nearly 118 countries, but not Ethiopia, have signed the Palermo Protocol which creates international mechanisms to combat international trafficking of children and women.

Children Have Human Rights! The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Ethiopia is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Yet the evidence shows that children’s rights are widely ignored and violated, including their right to be free from abuse and exploitation. The regime has failed to carry out one of its basic obligations under the Convention by failing to implement national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form, and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse of children.

Ethiopia Must Sign the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption and the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking

The regime must take action to deal with the various problems of intercountry adoptions by acceding (sign) to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption (entered into force 1995). This Convention is specifically designed to deal with a whole range of problems that could arise in intercountry adoptions. By signing the Convention Ethiopia will be able to work cooperatively with 75 other countries to ensure a robust intercountry adoptions process and help “prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children”. Other benefits from the Convention include streamlining and facilitation of many critical services in the intercountry adoptions process including, among others, counseling services for prospective adoptive parents, strong organizational cooperation between intercountry adoption agencies to protect children, provision of various post-adoption services, collection of statistics and data on adopted children, standards for ethical training, professional competence, experience and accountability of personnel working in adoption services, and preparation of evaluation reports about experiences with intercountry adoptions.

The Convention also provides emergency interventionary authority to the sending state after the adopted child had been transferred to the receiving state. Art. 21 (c), for instance, authorizes the sending state “as a last resort, to arrange the return of the child, if his or her interests so require” from the receiving state. In the current French molestation case, for instance, the regime could have secured a speedy return of the severely traumatized children back to Ethiopia, and obviate any efforts by French authorities place the children in another French foster home.

The regime must also sign the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (“Palermo Trafficking Protocol”, entered into force, 2003). Some 118 countries have signed the Protocol, but Ethiopia has not. The Protocol, among other things, prohibits the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation, facilitates return and acceptance of children who have been victims of cross-border trafficking, provides for the confiscation of the instruments and proceeds of trafficking and related offenses to be used for the benefit of trafficked persons, and protects trafficking victims from unjustified prosecutions and punishment.

Under article 13 of the Ethiopian “constitution”, the regime has a legal duty to protect the human rights of Ethiopian children guaranteed under international conventions. As required under the CPC, the regime should initiate multilateral discussions with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Arab Emrates and other Middle Eastern countries to deal with the problem of trafficking of Ethiopian children and girls into these countries. It is high time that the regime starts living up to its obligations under international law and its own constitution.

Our hearts are heavy with sadness in the thought that the tiny tots in France are in a hospital surrounded by people who speak a language they can’t understand, and to whom they are unable to tell their pain, suffering and total terror. No doubt, the French caregivers in the hospital are kind and compassionate people. But after surviving such horrific crimes that shock the conscience, France can not be a home to these two children. Simple human decency requires that they be returned to Ethiopia forthwith.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Given the manifest indifference of the regime to the desperate circumstances of Ethiopian children, the only other option, inadequate as it may be, is to seek support from non-governmental charity organizations for victims of child trafficking and improper adoptions. But the regime’s so-called charities law makes NGO involvement in such efforts exceedingly difficult by imposing cumbersome and paralyzing regulations on their activities. This past week Senator Russ Feingold, Senate Subcommittee chair on Africa, in a floor speech criticized the regime’s new law on charities and nongovernmental organizations:

The Ethiopian government claims the new regulations are aimed at improving the accountability and transparency of civil society organizations operating in Ethiopia. But what the provisions would actually do is erode the government’s own accountability and transparency by impeding these organizations’ ability to serve their essential watchdog functions. This is not the time or place for tighter controls. Instead, the Ethiopian government should support improvements in the quality and capacity of these groups, which are vital to the country’s continued political, economic, and social development.

“When the bough breaks the cradle will fall, Down comes the cradle with baby and all.” The regime has let the bough break from the Tree of Life with millions of Ethiopian children hanging precariously from it. Down come these children falling to the ground everyday without a caring hand waiting to embrace them. That comes as no surprise to us, because we know that the hand that rocks the broken cradle is the same hand that broke a great nation!