By Bereket Kiros and Ghelawdewos Araia
The Dan Rather video clip on abused adoptees and subsequent homeless Ethiopian teenagers in Seattle, Washington is a wakeup call for all of us Ethiopians. After exchange of ideas and information and discussing the adoption enigma in some detail, we at the Ethiopian Observer and the Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) have decided to take a more proactive position on the problem of illegal human trafficking and adoption of apparently orphan Ethiopian children, and use this opportunity to call upon all Ethiopians in the Diaspora and the Ethiopian Government to come up with some novel solution to this invidious problem.
The stories of abused Ethiopian adoptees are abounding. We recall the tragic death of Hanna Williams brought from Ethiopia in 2008 and starved to death by her adopting parents in 2011. The cause of her death was hypothermia, malnutrition, and gastritis. How cruel and depraved the Williams family could be to just torture and kill “their own child”? But was Hanna their child? Of course not! Even in a caring adopting family, the essentials of biological parenting would always remain a missing link.
One other story of abused Ethiopian adoptee comes out from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On September 15, 2014, the Pittsburgh Gazette reported the mistreatment and abuse of two Ethiopian children, aged 1 and 6, by their adopters, namely Douglas Barbour (former prosecutor) and Kristen Barbour. Both children suffered from malnutrition and one of them had untreated broken femur. Ultimately, the children were liberated from the hellish homestead of the Barbour’s and were adopted by a foster mother by the name Allison Peterson.
Yet, another story of abused Ethiopians was shared by Pound Pup Legacy (PPL) blog under the title of “Exposing the Dark Side of Adoption”. According to PPL, “Sharon and Reed Leonard adopted 10 children from Ethiopia and China, 4 through disruptions. At least 6 of the children are alleged to have been forced to sleep outside in calf hutchs, and were beaten with paddles, plastic pipes and metal rods,” in 2009. The adoption agency for both the Dan Rather story and this case is Adoption advocates International (AAI).
There are also stories of abused Ethiopians that were posted in The American Prospect and Lost Daughters on May 3, 2012 and November 27, 2014 respectively. The title of the story, produced by investigative journalist E. J. Graff, is entitled “Don’t Adopt From Ethiopia.” This is the story of Melesetch, an Ethiopian adopted via Children’s Home Society & Family Services, based in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Graff story goes as follows:
Miriam Jordan at The Wall Street Journal has published abut adoption from Ethiopia, which has for several years been riddled of fraud and unethical practices. Ethiopia’s adoption program has had some serious scandals over the past few years. About a year and half ago, I met and spoke with a Minister from its Ministry of Women, Children, and Families, who seemed dedicated to cleaning the program up – but the Minister may not have had internal support to overcome whatever profiteering or bribes might be circulating in the system. Similar things have happened in a series of countries, recently including Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal, and most notoriously Guatemala.”
And the Lost Daughters’ story, entitled ‘Ethiopian Adoptees: Orphans or “Manufactured Orphans’, goes as follows:
There have been numerous, well-documented reports of babies and children being trafficked by Ethiopian and American adoption agencies, sometimes in concert with Ethiopian orphanages. Children have been stolen from their families and families have been coerced and tricked into giving their children up for adoption, sometimes in exchange of money.”
Note: “manufactured orphans” is a term coined by E. J. Graff. The Lost Daughters’ story was posted by Melesetch.
The Dan Rather story, by and large, reflects all the above tragic stories, which are unconscionable and a major challenge to humanity as a whole and to Ethiopians in particular. Ethiopians should remain not only vigilant every time a problem of such nature arises, but also become part of the energy that could overcome illegal human trafficking including the adoption of Ethiopian children.
Ethiopians could not afford to exhibit a non-committal silence and slack off when children of Ethiopia are either tricked into the trap of adoption or, as one of the above stories reveal, are nakedly stolen in broad daylight and become victims of the middlemen in the adoption process. We can’t remain silent when we witness the despondency or hopelessness reflected in Abey’s spoken words and visage; it is our solemn duty to engage in discourse on the problem and reach out our Ethiopian victims of barbarous parents who seem to enjoy malicious glee in human suffering.
It is also important that we focus on the big picture, not just the adopting parents. We must indeed study and investigate and if possible file charges against the adoption organizations, but since the root cause for all these problems lies in the Ethiopian adoption program, we must ask the Ethiopian government to halt the adoption process and save Ethiopian children from dying in the hands of monsters. Unless the panacea is found in Ethiopia, the pandering adoption agencies would continue to promote their agenda of profit making. These organizations have no conscience and would not exhibit contrition or remorse for doing wrong or for indirectly inflicting pain, and in some instances death on the uninitiated and unsuspecting Ethiopians.
Words alone are inadequate to explain the physical and psychological suffering of the Ethiopian adoptees. The festering wounds in Belainesh’s mind compromise her brilliant eyes, and they manifest rather a diminished hope and constant fear. Unless we act now, these problems would continue to haunt some members of our society, and instead of ruminating with disappointment, it is imperative that we take a concerted action now. What is to be done now? Minimally, at least we can do and/or must do the following:
- We must all contact our representatives (congressmen and women or senators) in our respective constituencies.
- We must write and inform the major media outlets about the problem of adoption and heinous crimes committed against Ethiopian children.
- We must contact child protection services and family and children departments in our respective states and inform them to take action against a presumed or actual crime perpetrated against adoptees.
- We must contact the Ethiopian Government officials and ask them to establish a task force in an effort to investigate illegal human trafficking and the corrupt adoption program in Ethiopia.
- We must organize mini-conferences to discuss the matter of adoption and abuse of Ethiopian children, not only in raising awareness and in informing the public but also in overcoming the problem once and for all
- Whenever possible, those of us who have the wherewithal and good fortune, must file applications through the proper channel to reclaim the Ethiopian children and take responsibility of becoming their foster parents.
- We must form ad hoc committees for the sole purpose of saving the lives of young Ethiopians like Abey and repatriate them back to Ethiopia. Raising funds through the ad hoc committee and through the facilitation by Ethiopian government agencies back home can realize this criterion.