Adoption watchdog suppresses Ethiopia findings

By Mary Ann Jolley for Foreign Correspondent

Updated Tue Mar 2, 2010 12:42pm AEDT

A powerful international adoption overseer is refusing to release the results of its inquiry into the disturbing activities of American adoption agencies operating in Ethiopia.

The inquiry was launched after ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent exposed deep and dangerous flaws in the system.

The Joint Council of International Children’s Services (JCICS) says it has completed its probe, but to release its conclusions would not be “appropriate”.

Foreign Correspondent’s story last year exposed a dysfunctional, largely unregulated adoption industry in Ethiopia, where children were being harvested from families, and mothers claimed they were tricked into surrendering their children.

Tonight’s story unearths more disturbing developments: children wrongly portrayed as orphans and children pitched to adoptive families as being as young as seven when in fact they are teenagers.

Ethiopia has not signed the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption, but hosts many adoption agencies boasting Hague credentials and claiming high standards of practice.

Prominent adoption reform advocate Maureen Flatley claims JCICS is stacked with adoption agency figures and does a poor job of self-regulating.

“We’ve really let the fox guard the henhouse,” she said.

“They are the ‘big tobacco’ of adoption. They are a trade association that nominally espouses the highest standards but which is harbouring the very people who have been involved in some of the biggest abuses in adoption – and they haven’t laid a hand on them.

“The JCICS has one goal and one goal only, and that is to avoid federal regulation of adoption.

“Here is one of the biggest pieces of hypocrisy in adoption. If they’re Hague-accredited, why are they doing business with a country that isn’t a Hague signer?

“The answer is that they know they have much more freedom to do whatever they want to do and to bully people in countries that aren’t Hague signatories.”

Last year’s Foreign Correspondent program focused on the activities of Christian World Adoption (CWA), one of the largest US agencies operating in Ethiopia.

It featured video of a CWA representative asking families in one southern village if they wanted to surrender their children.

The program also showed the plight of CWA client Lisa Boe, who adopted a “healthy” boy who arrived with a litany of serious health problems.

Ms Boe spoke out and is now being sued by CWA.

The agency repeatedly refused to comment before it finally allowed lawyer Curtis Bostic to be interviewed.

“A half a million children in Ethiopia will sleep on the street. By sunset tonight 500 will die from starvation,” Mr Bostic said.

“There are children today who need what caring American and Australian families can bring them.

“What Lisa Boe did was make a series of exaggerations and misrepresentations that has slowed and, in some cases, halted that process.”

Tonight Foreign Correspondent exposes more cases, including that of Journee Bradshaw, who claims CWA told her she was heading off on a study trip to the US, only to learn after her arrival that she would not be returning to Ethiopia.

“I didn’t know that I’m going to stay here,” she said.

“They never told me that I’m going to have a family I’m going to stay with and I’m supposed to be their daughter. They never told me that. I just find out when I got here.”

“You can’t imagine the depth of her pain,” said Katie Bradshaw, Journee’s American adoptive mother.

“No-one will understand the damage. It was as if someone had ripped the soul out of her body and just left her. It was absolutely unbelievable.”

-Watch tonight’s program on ABC1 at 8:00pm. Contribute your stories to a special Foreign Correspondent/ABC News Online Investigative Unit special. Contact us and tell us your experiences of international adoptions in Australia.