Ethiopia’s adoption dilemma

Date: 2005-10-06
Mohammed Adow
BBC, Addis Ababa

At the Kids Care Orphanage in Addis Ababa, hundreds of newborn babies – some of them only days old – are cared for until people are ready to adopt them.


Most of the parents are from abroad. The adoption of Ethiopian children by foreigners has increased sharply in the past few years, with thousands of parents from various parts of the Western world adopting children from this impoverished nation.

Kids Care Orphanage is just one of the numerous orphanages and child care centres in the Ethiopian capital.

Aster Fisseha, who runs the orphanage, says that the children in her care are mostly abandoned children who are found by police patrols in dark alleys, and at times even in toilets.

Aster believes that foster parents from the West prefer Ethiopian children because they are aware of the huge problems in Ethiopia.

She jokingly adds that the good looks of Ethiopians could be another reason why Ethiopian children are preferred.

Aids impact

Apart from abandoned children, there is also a steady increase in the number of Ethiopian children becoming orphans because of Aids.

It is illegal to mention money where a baby is involved
Hadush Halifom


Of the estimated five million orphans in Ethiopia today, nearly half are orphaned by Aids.

Today there are nearly 40 agencies in Addis Ababa handling adoptions.

These are licensed by the Ethiopian authorities, who say Ethiopian orphans have a right to be adopted, but that sending them abroad is a last resort because it is preferable for children to be brought up in their own culture.

In one of the most well-publicised adoptions, movie star Angelina Jolie adopted an Ethiopian child with the help of an agency called Wide Horizons for Children.


That agency’s representative in Ethiopia, Dr Tsegaye Berhe, says the process of adopting children from Ethiopia is much simpler than the process in countries like China and Guatemala, which have also provided children for foreign adoption.



Film star Angelina Jolie has also adopted a child from Cambodia

Dr Tsegaye says the agency prefers the adoptive parents to come personally and collect the child.

It is also mandatory, he says, for the parents to stay at least two weeks to learn something about Ethiopia.

Nevertheless, adoption in Ethiopia has not been without controversy. Opponents have described it as child trafficking.

Strict watch

But Hadush Halifom of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs says that though adopting from Ethiopia may be easy, the government keeps a strict watch on orphanages that keep children for adoption.

I grew up as the negro girl
Hannah Wosene Kebam


Hadush says they prohibit the orphanages from putting price tags on babies.

“If they do this they are breaking the child rights convention. It is illegal to mention money where a baby is involved,” he says.

Ethiopia’s adopted children rarely have the chance to return to their birthplace.


But there have been a few exceptions, like Hannah Wosene Kebam, 30, who grew up in Norway.



Hannah came back to a reunion with her family, from whom she separated when she was only a few months old.

“Growing up in Norway has been very good,” she told me.

“I grew up strong, I got what I need, and I am a happy girl, but it is difficult to grow up in a family who are white, in school they are white and even at workplaces.”

Hannah says that she grew up with questions like: “Why can’t I call you a negro?”

She says that it is common to call black people negroes in Norway: “I grew up as the negro girl”.


In a country where she looked different from most other people, Hannah says that it became too common for her to answer all kinds of questions about her looks – such as how she washes her hair.

She adds it was not always easy to tell her adoptive parents about the trouble she was getting.

“Somehow white people have a mentality of black people that they are poor, can’t think and that the only thing they know is dancing and singing,” says Hannah.

And how does Hannah view adoption in general?

“I am not saying adoption is bad or should be stopped, but it should not be as easy as it is today,” she says


Hannah’s biggest concern is that there are no guidelines for black children being adopted by white families.

She says that it is a psychological disaster for the child if the family doesn’t talk about the colour of their adopted child’s skin.

“There are foster parents who say they don’t care about the colour of the child and I always tell them that they must be colour-blind.

“For the child it is not enough to say that the child is getting good food and education – who he is and where he comes from matter a great deal to the child.

“It is because of the neglect of the issue of identity that you see many adopted children going down the drain despite getting the best food in the world,” she concludes.

It is no wonder therefore that adoption agencies and orphanages in Addis Ababa prefer black to white foster parents for the children in their custody.

Yet Ethiopian orphans are in dire need of parents and a place to call home.