Ethiopia’s Ban on International Adoption is Indefensible if not Cruel

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Dear Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

The government policy that has denied Ethiopian children the opportunity to be raised in a loving family outside of Ethiopia is indefensible at best and outright cruel at worst.

This is a policy that your administration has inherited from the previous government. The purpose of this petition is to urge you to re-open the adoption process and let orphaned children grow in loving families abroad.

The Ban’s stipulations that "intercountry adoption made children vulnerable to identify crisis, psychological problems, and violation of rights" and "the ban will enable children to grow up in Ethiopian culture, custom, social values and practices of their birth place" is rhetorical, bordering on the frivolous.

Such policies stem from a luxury of the elite’s haphazard tendency to glorify our culture and customs than from a place of heartfelt concern for the wellbeing of tens of thousands of orphaned children. The policy utterly ignores the harsh realities of orphaned children. Adoption is their only hope before they get a critical first break in life.

Yes, while living in a foreign land may lead to questions of identity and psychological hardships, these potential downsides are significantly outweighed by the potential for being placed in a loving home.

“The culture, customs, social value” argument is devoid of merit. If such were the case, why are wealthy families allowed to send their children to the US and Europe at ages as young as 10 years old to attend boarding schools? If the government is going to be the “culture and custom” police, what is it going to do with children of the nouveau riche in Addis Ababa who publicly manifest “foreign culture” from the way they walk, talk, and behave?

Orphaned children exist behind the beyond and beneath the underneath of society. Their cries are faint, and their tears are invisible. In the absence of local solutions, international adoption is the only harbinger of a sunset light that shines a sliver of hope in their doomed lives. Let us not deny them that.

Yes, there are cases (a negligible fraction) where adopted children are abused or even killed by their adoptive parents. There are also cases where biological children are abused or even killed by their biological parents. This has not prompted the government to ban the production of biological children.

There are over 1.5 million adopted children in the US. An overwhelming majority of them live a happy life. Some of them grow to be successful. One such lucky person of a Syrian origin was the late Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple. Another is Marcus Samuelsson, an Ethiopian born Swedish chef and restaurateur. Not every adoptee will grow up to be Steve Jobs or Marcus Samuelsson. By the same token, not every adoptee will be abused or killed. Those are rarities beyond rare. The US has a reliable screening process before prospective adoptive parents are cleared to adopt a child.

According to the State Department, in 2010, over 2,500 Ethiopian children were adopted by American families. By 2016, that figure was a meager 133. If one takes the 2,500 annual figure of 2010, in the last 9 years, over 22,500 children would have been adopted by American parents, not to mention the number of children that may have been adopted by Europeans and others.

How many children as young as 10 do we have sleeping on the streets of Addis Ababa? What percent of them are abused? What percent of them sleep hungry? How many of them go to school? What hope does the government has for them?

Most of the adoptive parents from the US are devoted Christians. Their driving force is their religion that teaches them to share their blessings with those who are less blessed. On average, it costs $30,000 to adopt a child from overseas. Some people take out loans to be able to pay for it. Do Ethiopian policy makers think people will spend $30,000 to adopt a child if it is not for unadulterated pure love for children of love and a desire to be a parent?

Some adopt “special needs” (i.e. mentally or physically challenged) children because no one wants them. It is an insult to such families to base Ethiopia’s adoption policy on a few selected bad adoption cases. Similarly, it is simply cruel to deny such children a shot in life, under the rubric of culture and custom, as if we have a monopoly over cultural novelty and moral virtue.

I personally know two Ethiopian-American friends who have adopted Ethiopian children. I also know Ethiopian-Americans who abandoned their dream of adopting Ethiopian children because of misguided policy makers, who are lacking sympathy and empathy both for the orphaned children and parents to be.

I have lived in the US for over 40 years, but still hold an Ethiopian passport. I have raised 3 of my own biological children and they are Americans both by nationality and culture. Is the government going to pass a law to promulgate Ethiopian children born and raised abroad must be raised with Ethiopian culture and customs? If not, what is wrong if American families raise their adopted children like their own biological children, immersing them in their culture and religion?

Mr. Prime Minister

Let the children have loving parents. Lift the Ban and open the adoption process immediately. If reforms are required, let them go in parallel. Do not let a child go hungry. Not even for one day more than necessary. Open the floodgate and let the children have parents they so desperately need and let the prospective parents have children they so eagerly want.

God Bless