31.3.2016 by Rikke Struck Westersø
Amy Steen’s adoption case became famous in 2012. Now she escaped to Ethiopia, where her mother has asked the court to annul the adoption. In the midst of the winter holidays Amy Steen announced she wanted to go to Sweden. She would not tell his foster mother why or with whom. But the teenage girl did not do so. She went to the station in Naestved and boarded a train to Hamburg. Later in the day a man from the organization Against Child Trafficking called Amy’s foster mother and he told that he and the girl were in Dubai. They were on their way to Ethiopia. It is six weeks ago now. The foster mother does not know if Amy will ever come back. Thursday the Ethiopian legal system is scheduled to deliver its judgment in a case which the girl’s birth mother began a few years ago. She will have the adoption annulled.
Thursday morning, however, the message is that the court in Addis Ababa has postponed the case yet again.
Adoption became deadlocked
Amy Steen’s young life has been a mess. In 2012 her unhappy adoption case came in the media, when a video showed how she was screaming when dragged from her foster family’s living room to be placed in a residential institution. It all began in 2009 when she and her younger sister were adopted from Ethiopia to Næstved by a Danish couple. Her little sister was two. Amy was nine. At least that’s what stood in the papers. Later doctors found that she would rather be 10-11 years old when she was removed from her family and brought to the strange land far from home. It was not easy for the girl or adoptive parents. In 2011, the situation had gone so much into an impasse that Amy Steen was placed with the foster family from which she later was forcibly removed and placed in a residential institution. About three months later she was allowed to return to the foster family, where she has lived until now. So until she ran off on Feb. 17 to go to Ethiopia and her biological family. Since Amy Steen was adopted in Denmark in 2009, her mother has recovered and has had another daughter – and Amy has another little sister. Photo: Against Child Trafficking
The stories of Amy and Masho led to criticism
Along with the documentary ‘Mercy Mercy – adoption price’ that portrayed the girl Masho’s adoption process, Amy Steen’s story created a fierce debate in 2012. The girls ended up only not to thrive and had to be placed – their adoptions were also taken under false pretenses, it turned out. In several cases – including Amy – the poor parents who were sick and thought they would die, for example HIV infection, have been lured by the so-called childharvesters to sell their children, and that they could keep in touch with them. But after the adoption, the parents never heard anything. When Politiken found Amy Steen’s biological mother, Genet Kedir, in a small provincial town in Ethiopia in 2012, she was distraught because she feared that silence was because one or both of her adopted children were no longer alive. ?? Criticism of the circumstances surrounding adoptions have led, among other things, to the introduction of stricter supervision, several demands made and also violently turned down adoptions from Ethiopia. Just a month ago the social and Interior Minister Karen Ellemann decided that it’s over with adopted children from that country . – We can not sit back with an uncertainty about whether anything other than considerations of their best interest controls adoption decisions, said the minister in a statement.
Having gone to court to cancel adoption
Amy Steen was so old when she was adopted, that she is well aware of what she has been removed from. Today she would like to be called by her Ethiopian name Tigist. – She missed them so devastating much. She has been filled with so much sorrow and loss, says foster mother Hanne Keller, with whom the girl lived with for five years, about Amy’s mother, older sister and the rest of her family in Ethiopia. But Amy Steen can not visit them until she is an adult. The Appeals Board decided that. Amy Steen’s biological mother, Genet Kedir, with Against Child Trafficking has gone to the justice system in Ethiopia to have the adoption annulled. – I was literally brainwashed, she explained with her ??daughter in her arms and tears streaming down her face to politics when in October 2013 she was helped to come to Denmark by the organisation Against Child Trafficking. In February 2014 TV 2 found the mother : – I will make both the Ethiopian and Danish authorities aware of what my children have been exposed to and have them removed from their adoptive parents. Therefore, I have gone to court, said Genet Kedir. The case has been pending ever since. Thursday the court in Ethiopia will choose to postpone the matter even further – or a judgment will finally be delivered. If the court chooses to give Genet Kedir success, she will again – at least as seen with Ethiopian eyes – be legally Amy Steen’s mother.
Excited and nervous about the trial
The plan was that there would be a verdict in the case on Thursday, but on Thursday morning the judge postponed sentencing with one week. – It is extremely normal in the Ethiopian legal system. It would not surprise me if it was postponed yet again next week, says the Danish journalist Rasmus Sønderriis who is following the case in Addis Ababa. When TV 2 speaks with him, he sits with Amy Steen and her biological mother Genet Kedir. They are excited, but they take the postponement well, he says. They were prepared that they might not have a decision today. – Both Amy – or Tigist, as she is called now – and her mother Genet are very nervous and excited, because they have devoted much effort in the trial. For Amy’s mother, it is especially a matter of revenge, because she is angry and hurt that the Danish adoptive parents took her two girls and afterwards decided to choose just one of them, says Rasmus Sønderriis. – For Amy there is perhaps not so very much at stake. But there are strong feelings. If she does not win the case, her Danish adoptive parents in theory can come here to Ethiopia and get her back to Denmark. She will of course prefer to avoid that. She is very happy to be back in Ethiopia and re-grows her roots, she says and explains that she has began to speak Amharic again. There was nothing left of her native language when she came to the country in February. But she remembers now much of it, and “now she speaks almost normal”.
A new family photo. Amy Steen with the Ethiopian name Tigist sits in the middle of ripped jeans. Photo: Against Child Trafficking
Will she ever return?
When the girl went to Ethiopia for the winter holidays, it was supposed that she had to go and give evidence in court and then come home again 10 days later. But Amy Steen is apparently so happy to be surrounded by her family that she has been helped to get a tourist visa so she can stay in the country for three months. So far, she has a return ticket to Denmark 12th May. But if the legal system in Ethiopia chooses to terminate adoption, however, there is no one who will throw her out of the country when her visa expires. Hanne Keller is in doubt which way the young girl will choose. She comes back to Denmark, where she now goes in ninth grade, have friends and an iPhone, speaks the language and gets an education – or will she be in a poor country with the family she has missed so intensely? – Whatever one of these fine countries can offer in terms of money, clothes, mobile phones, travel, straighteners and whatever, it will not remove the grief and loss of a child who has a mother and father and siblings and grandfather in the country, from which she has been removed. So all the stuff does not matter. It’s so much under the skin and important, that everything else does not matter, says Hanne Keller, however, she has a feeling that Amy will come back – although doesn’t have something concrete to base the feeling on.
Seven years after the adoption reunite grandfather and granddaugther. Photo: Against Child Trafficking
When TV 2 told about the trial two years ago, Amy Steen said herself: – I will be in Denmark, where I have friends and school. I would like to visit in Ethiopia, but I belong in Denmark. The representative of Against Child Trafficking, which has helped Amy Steen to Ethiopia and helps the mother to go on trial, also said to TV 2 that Amy will return. This is where she has her sister, her school and her friends. She would also like an assurance that she may visit her family again and that she has seen her now eight-year-old sister, who still lives with the adoptive parents.
Denmark must not add judgment
It is not set in stone what a verdict in the East African country will mean in Denmark. Denmark should not simply go along with what the court in Ethiopia believes, assesses Claus Juul, who is Legal Adviser at Amnesty International. – Although all think that Amy’s case was horrific, she has now been so long in Denmark that – before deciding whether she should go anywhere – you have to look at what is best for her now. What’s in her best interest. You have to look at her attachment to both Ethiopia where she was born, and Denmark, where she has been for the past seven years of her life. She is so old that she should also be heard. The Ethiopian judgment has not simply the force of law in Denmark, he says. Danish authorities are likely to look at the judgment and the arguments and grounds on which it is based, he explains. They will look at whether it is correct to override the adoption on the grounds of fraud, if it is, rights in Ethiopia rule. And even then it is not certain what it will mean for Amy Steen’s everyday life. – It also requires that anyone on their parents’ behalf in the court documents requires that Amy coming back to Ethiopia. The mother, for example, must contact the Danish authorities and say, “see, now I have proof that I agreed to adoption under false pretences.” But the question is whether that is what they want, says Claus Juul.
The language is gone, so everything is done with an interpreter, while Amy Steen is in Ethiopia to visit her family. She will also preferably go back to Denmark. This is where she belongs now. But she just wants to be allowed to go back and visit his mother and sisters. Photo: Against Child Trafficking
Okay, that she has not called The foster mother has not spoken to Amy Steen, since she left. As a foster mother, Hanne Keller has the authority to dictate what their daughter, now aged 15-16, can do and can not. In her mind thought, Hanne Keller knew that day in February that she would not make a conflict out of a trip to Sweden. She was disappointed that the girl, with whom she has a close and loving relationship, would not initiate her into his plans. But since Christmas, Amy Steen would not initiate her in. Amy moved over to a friend the day and would go away. Hanne Keller did not know what she packed, but drove to her friend just before Amy Steen had to leave because she had forgotten her passport at home. And she probably needed it now that there are tighter border controls between Denmark and Sweden, her foster mother thought.
Later she wrote a text message. “Have you arrived well? Where are you? Are you all right?” But there was no answer. The mobile phone was left with her friend. The foster mother knows that the girl has a phone, where she is now. But she has announced that she will not talk to anyone in Denmark. Her Facebook profile stands as silent. – I am surprised that she has not called, but that’s okay. She knows that we are there for her. It’s okay, she escapes Denmark right now to find out what it is where she comes from. It’s okay, though we miss her very indescribable. The whole family. We do not know if she’s coming back – we can only hope, says Hanne Keller.
Her first reaction when it dawned on her that Amy was in Ethiopia? – It seemed just healthy to me. But honestly – I thought it was really cool for her.
TV 2 has talked to Amy Steen’s Danish adoptive parents. They did not want to participate in this article.