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Uncertain future for Ethiopia’s orphans

Ethiopia is one of the world’s most popular destinations for western couples hoping to adopt orphaned children.

Last year adoptions from Ethiopia peaked at about 2500.

But numbers are expected to be much lower this year as the Horn of Africa country brings in a new law on international adoption.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs wants to cut the number of children adopted internationally by as much as 90 per cent, to put a stop to illegal adoptions.

Some children living with their parents have allegedly been falsely put up for adoption.

Many Ethiopians agree that tighter government adoption laws are needed, but are worried that by the same token, stricter rules will mean more Ethiopian orphans stay longer in institutions.

Ato Adane used to work for an orphanage for children awaiting international adoptions. He said the huge sums of money that change hands with each adoption have made adoption agencies and orphanages greedy.

My boss told me that Americans paid close to $20,000 (about £12,000) for each child,” he told Ezega News. “The way he described this sum and the cut the orphanage got made me uncomfortable. I felt that it was wrong to discuss the children as items for sale. I was also concerned because it didn’t seem the children were cared for properly. I knew that the agencies we worked with contributed more than 80,000 Ethiopian Birr (about £3,000) a month for their care but there were days when the cook was unable to prepare dinner because the food had run out.

He is also worried that the new government directive will create delays in the adoption process that will end up with children having to stay longer in institutions. “I fully support the government controlling illegal operators but it is also a sad thing that children are being forced to stay in orphanages for longer. The government needs to make sure that children in orphanages are properly taken care of. This is especially going to be a concern if funds from adoption agencies dwindle with decreasing numbers of adoptions.

The country is now trying to encourage more local adoptions, as an alternative. But it is still early days and a bias towards biological children lingers. Many Ethiopians take in and bring up orphaned relatives and these children can be well-cared for but they are rarely recognised as members of the family.

So until local adoptions become more widespread and while international ones are held back, many aid workers are asking what will happen to Ethiopia’s millions of orphans.

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