In Ethiopia, placing institutions and adoption practices under scrutiny - and reuniting children with their families
By Indrias Getachew
JARE HINESSA, Ethiopia, 10 December 2012 - Emotions run high when baby Meseret comes home. It’s been 14 months since she was placed in an orphanage by her father, a single parent who had hoped that she would be adopted and raised abroad.
“I gave her up to an orphanage because she was so young when her mother died,” says Meseret’s father Thomas Hatito. Mr. Hatito’s wife passed away in childbirth, and he was faced with raising Meseret in addition to his seven other children, on his own. “I gave her away so that she could grow up and get a better education than is available here.”
Meseret was 6 days old when Mr. Hatito handed her over to the orphanage.
Rising international adoptions, rising concerns
In recent years, Ethiopia has become one of the most popular countries for international adoptions. More than 4,500 children were placed in inter-country adoption in 2009, double the number of children in 2006.
According to the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, the rapid increase in inter-country adoptions has spawned a proliferation of child care institutions.
However, 45 per cent of these institutions were found to be operating without a valid license.
Concerns about methods – and facilities
Rising demand for Ethiopian children and the lack of adequate mechanisms to ensure compliance with procedures meant to protect their best interests have led to concerns about methods used by adoption agencies and child care institutions.
“[Parents] were being told, ‘if your child goes abroad, you will get all types of rewards, you will get more money,’” says Project Officer at the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs Yeshimebet Yirga.
Increasing reports of abuse have prompted action by the Government of Ethiopia to address the issue. In 2010, two assessments of institutional child care were conducted. The assessments looked at child care institutions in five regions, including SNNPR.
“There are standards that any organization which raises children needs to meet,” says officer in charge of promoting child rights and protection with the SNNPR Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs Ashenefech Admassu. “But, when many of them were reviewed, it became clear that they were not seeking the best interests of the children, but their own private benefit.”
The orphanage that had taken Meseret was among those deemed unfit to continue operating. Meseret and the other children who lived there were placed with caretakers while the process of family reunification began.
Ms. Yirga and the rest of the team from the SNNPR Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs were trained with the support of UNICEF to provide care for the children and reunite them with their families.
“After convincing the families, we don’t just give the children back empty-handed,” she says. “We prepare a package that we believe a returning child will need, and that will reduce the burden on the family.”
Meseret’s family received clothing and household items and a cash grant to ease their financial pressures. The programme also helps families to set up projects that generate income.
Ms. Yirga and her team accompanied Meseret and her nanny from the caretaker institution to Jare Hinessa village. Neighbours and community leaders turned out in large numbers to welcome Meseret home.
Reaching as many children as possible
According to the Central Statistic, 3.8 million orphans lost one or both parents to AIDS-related causes in 2009. It is likely that some 10,000 such children live under institutional care.
“UNICEF is working with the federal and regional authorities to come up with a range of family-based options for children without parental care,” says UNICEF Ethiopia Communication Manager Alexandra Westerbeek. “We all agree that institutions are not the solution for children, and what they need is a family environment.”