The going rate for a baby in Ethiopia is $10,000USD, through legal channels. I’m not sure what a black market baby will run you. It’s sometimes hard for me to wrap my head around a baby with a price tag.
Pioneered by Angelina, this new wave of international adoption is in your face. Madonna is plastered all over CNN with her problems trying to adopt a Malawian baby. Spoof news magazine The Onion features a story with the headline “Angelina Jolie Coming for Your Baby” and the Jolie-Pitt family is steadily increasing its international brood. Here in Addis Ababa, a new flock of mostly American adopters takes over the Hilton and Sheraton hotels every 6 months, staying a week before exporting their new children back to the West.
Perhaps I sound overly harsh, and as an adoptee myself, I can’t be completely critical of the adoption industry. Certainly, there’s a crisis of orphans here in Africa, with the scourge of Aids leaving thousands of parentless children in terrible conditions with impoverished societies unable to care for them. And the population growth in many of these countries is causing huge developmental problems, such as environmental degradation, food insecurity and dilution of wealth, whereas in the West we need immigration to maintain our population levels. As well, adoption within the West is difficult for families who can’t have children of their own because of massive waiting lists and restrictive bureaucracy.
But it’s important to think about the overall impact of massive adoption from developing countries from a wider perspective. Take, for example, Ethiopia. One of the five poorest nations in the world, Ethiopia faces brain drain of its wealthy and educated, creating hubs of diaspora in places like Washington, D.C. or Edmonton, and undermining the country’s potential for growth. I see mass adoptions to the West in a similar light. By exporting a chunk of the future generation of Ethiopians, we are only addressing the symptoms of the problem and perhaps mining the youth that will carry Ethiopia out of poverty. I also question why the children have to be taken away to the West, when it is entirely possible to successfully sponsor a child (and its community) without taking it away from its society and culture.
I’m not advocating an end to international adoption, because it serves the urgent purpose of providing better lives for children that would otherwise have no opportunity, or worse, would simply rot in orphanages and contribute to the increasing incidence of HIV infection. I’m saying lets look at the long term and try to solve the problems that supply the babies put up for adoption. Lets invest in strategies to eradicate poverty and reduce the prevalence of orphans.
When I look at what $10,000 can do when put to good use here, I am amazed. CPAR would build a rainwater harvesting tank for a school in Ethiopia’s Dibate region that faces chronic water shortages. The direct impact of this investment would address the issue of school absences due to water-related illness and time spent collecting water, mostly by girls. By supporting health and education in this way, CPAR would be building the capacity of the community to lead more productive lives, reducing the factors that lead to HIV/AIDS and orphanhood. $10,000 could build five water tanks in five different communities, impacting approximately 1000 students directly, and many others indirectly.
I might adopt a child from Africa or Asia when I’m ready to be a mother. But if I do, I’ll make sure that I simultaneously contribute to addressing the development issues facing the country in the hopes that in the future, the country will be able to take care of its own young. And I’ll ensure that the child I’m adopting doesn’t have any other option, that its family hasn’t seen an opportunity in the demand for babies and sold its baby into adoption to make ends meet.
Until then, I will still get a little edgy when the doorman at the Hilton kindly leans over and asks me, “Where is your Ethiopian baby?”