Ethiopian adoptions are once again getting attention in the press. Last night, CBS Evening News aired a piece (link posted above) focused on the allegedly corrupt and unethical practices of one particular adoption agency (CWA) in Ethiopia. (Some might remember that I posted about another news piece on this same agency back in September.) The story told here is absolutely terrible. It focuses on an American couple that adopted three sisters from Ethiopia. According to the report, the birth father was paid for the girls and they were told they would return to Ethiopia (and to him) after they finished school. The girls eventually told this story to their adoptive parents and the adoptive parents are making the story public. What a tragic situation for the birth father, the adoptive parents, and mostly, the girls.
[In all fairness, let me note that of course what we are seeing here in this piece is only what CBS chose to show us. CWA has issued a rebuttal and states that it provided information that was apparently not presented in the final piece. I take issue with a few statements CWA makes about agencies not having access to information about birth parents and so on. If that’s the case, then how come my agency arranges meetings between the birth family and adoptive parents? But anyway…]
As with the recent situation in Haiti, I think it is important for us to hear of these unthinkable practices. We need to expose the bad actors and ensure that adoptions are done ethically and transparently. We need to determine what safeguards apparently failed in this situation and what else needs to be done to make sure that instances like these don’t occur again. And we need to get rid of the agencies that do not practice legally or ethically.
Beyond that primary concern, however, I also have major reservations about how mainstream media pieces like this portray Ethiopian adoptions. Granted, the piece did mention that CWA was one of 70 agencies licensed in Ethiopia. But they didn’t do much else to note that this is not the way the overwhelming majority of Ethiopian adoptions are done. It seems to me that someone who knows nothing about international adoption could watch a piece like this and think that all children adopted from Ethiopia are paid for and taken from their birth families (who expect them to return someday). I also think that one could easily interpret the information given in the piece to mean that all international adoption agencies – at least those in Ethiopia – are corrupt and that most children adopted internationally are victims of child trafficking.
The terminology used in this story is also disturbing. At one point the journalist notes something about how so many internationally-adopted children are not even really orphans. A typical person might think that an orphan has no living family members. But in the world of international adoption, and by law both in the United States and in Ethiopia, the term orphan can also mean that the child was abandoned or relinquished. Just like in adoption situations here within the US, many children adopted from overseas do have living birth relatives who make heart-breaking decisions to relinquish their children. If done via the proper and legal channels, those children are orphans.
I also don’t appreciate the fact that no contextual information was given about the rise in numbers of Ethiopian adoptions over the past few years. Yes, the numbers have risen dramatically. There is also a tremendous amount of need and there are more and more agencies working in the country. Additionally, it is a relatively new program (in the realm of international adoption) and it only makes sense that its numbers would increase as some programs (Guatemala, Vietnam) close and others (China) have increasingly long wait times.
I know that Craig and I will likely always be in the minority in that we will have more first-hand experience with international adoption than the average person. We have a lifetime of explaining ahead of us (on a number of fronts), I’m sure. It would just be nice if someone doing a piece like this would really explain the whole story in a way that is not so sensational and is balanced and informative. I know this is a complaint made of the mainstream media time and time again. I guess this is simply a timely and relevant direct example that is hitting home with me.
But please don’t get me wrong: My primary and utmost concern is with the way the adoptions are handled. They must be ethical. The children must be the priority, and their connections to birth families and native cultures must be maintained if at all possible. So, if this type of exposure is what is needed to sort out the bad actors, then I’m all for making these types of allegations public (and the investigations that go along with them). We need to know that everything is being done properly, across the board, via all agencies.