Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Human Traffic 2: Ethiopia's Baby Trade

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?”


Owlhaven said...

You make some good points. In 2006 732 Ethiopian kids came into adoptive families in the U.S. At the same time there are millions of orphans in Ethiopia. Adoption clearly is not the solution. Absolutely we should invest in Ethiopia and its people to give more children there a future. But in the meantime adoption is a very good solution, for a handful of Ethiopian orphans, anyway.

Mary, mom to two Ethiopian daughters and in the process of adopting again.

Mike Todd said...

Kate - 10 days ago I was on the night flight from Addis to Washington, DC. We watched and counted as the "obviously" adoptive parents and their babies were moved up to the head of the massive line at the gate. We counted 21. Then we wondered what it must be like for the Ethiopian nationals working at the airport to witness this migration, night after night.

Considering a few of our group worked for an American adoption agency, it was something of a sobering scene to witness. I have no idea what the solutions may be, but you raise some valid concerns.

Grant said...

Fascinating account from the front lines Kate... It's so valuable for us stuck in the West to get the perspective from places like Ethiopia.

-- Greatly enjoying your posts Kate, keep more like this coming :)

R Adatia said...

I found the whole adoption scene strange. Where does the $10,000 go?

shalom said...

Contrived. That's the first word that I thought of after having read your blog.

Damaging was the second.

Presumptuous was the third.

All children need to be loved. As an African-American mother of 3, if one finds it within their soul to love a child who am I to say differently? Either for the stranger or the child.

Stop creating reasons why not to and become part of an active solution.

Kate Jongbloed said...

Hi Shalom.

I totally agree with your point that first and foremost a child needs love. Along with this hope, I also have the hope that communities will be able to grow strong and support their children well. International adoption does very well for the first hope, but less well for the second.

I'm sorry if you found me damaging, presumptuous and contrived in the process of making this point.

Please keep visiting my blog!


Anonymous said...

Many, dare I say most, people who are adopting are doing so to build their families. They aren't trying to save the world.

If you are out to help huge numbers of children, adoption is not the solution. If you want to add a child to your family, it is a wonderful option.

jayme said...

A friend told me about your blog, and I'm so glad she did! I think you add a really important perspective to a lot of the broader issues surrounding international adoption. I'm finding that all too often the focus is entirely on what's "best" for the adoptive families. But our gain is Ethiopia's loss, and we need to seriously consider how we can assist Ethiopia in becoming a stronger, more self-sufficient nation.

There will always be children who need permanent, stable adoptive homes. But the mass exodus and
"trade" of children who are *not* truly orphaned is a different thing entirely, and I believe that we do have an obligation to consider the long-term consequences of our actions.

Thanks for starting this conversation!

Jennifer said...

Hmm, let's see. When was the last time someone gave birth to a baby and wasn't charged by the hospital? Even insurance coverage isn't free. Another perspective on "price tags" for babies.

I know these are just your off the cuff thoughts and feelings and thus you didn't have time to do the research but I think 1000 adoptions in one year in a country with millions of orphans is not a huge drain of resources for the future.
Some of these children might not be alive to be that great resource while you are waiting for all of those water towers to be built (and build them one should).

By the way, quite a lot of these adoptions happened before Ms. Jolie adopted her baby.

T&S said...


Interesting post. However, you have to remember that many of the families (ours being on of them) continue to financially support Ethiopia, donate, contribute, sponsor children and feel a great deal of love and respect for the amazing people of Ethiopia. We are not stealing children. In many ways it seems your post diminishes the painful decisions the Ethiopian people are making... and misjudges many of us adoptive parents.

We, personally, are VERY connected to the people of Ethiopia in our community who teach us the language, imbue us with culture, enrich and invigorate our lives.. .and that of our amazing Ethiopian daughter. She will not get lost in the West, as you presume. She'll likely be an active member of the Ethiopian community.

Ethiopian adoption was open long before AJ adopted her daughter from this country. We have grown our family because of LOVE, not to rescue. If you are adopting to "do good" or "rescue/save" a child, you are in it for the wrong reason. Further, buying a water tank doesn't solve: Malaria, unprotected sex which can lead to HIV and other diseases, a lack of medical facilities for medical care, etc.; it might give you "clean" water, but it doesn't solve any major issues. Maybe we should help to fight governmental corruption, maybe we should ask our government to give money more responsibly.

But, don't blame adoption. The youth we are "exporting" (thank you, but my beautiful daughter is not a material item), will likely go back to Ethiopia, meet their birth families if they are still alive, contribute to Ethiopian society.

In the meantime, those of us who have birth parents we were able to meet continue that relationship, honor our extended family, and will continue to give, give, give, because we love, not because we "bought" a baby.

p.s. Want to help? Donate? www.ahopeforchildren.org or any one of the numerous other organizations that provide enrichment and opportunity to the Ethiopian people.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insightful post and for sharing your experience and thoughts. You raise valid points and they will no doubt raise defense with newly adoptive and waiting families.

I often wonder how Ethiopians view Americans coming in-country to take away children, often babies. Families maintain that they "can give them a better life".

I suppose for the price of their plane tickets and adoption fees, they could give them a better life and it could be in Ethiopia with their birth families.

More and more Ethiopian children are being adopted with families in tact. Adoption should be reserved for children who have no one to call "anat" and "abat". And certainly families should not be parked on wait-lists waiting for an "orphan" to become available.

But then Americans wouldn't have a baby to hold or a means of "growing their families".

Why is it that Americans are afforded options when they can't have something they want, like a child of their own? But an Ethiopian birth mother must live with acceptance of what she can't have, even her own child! She is not afforded options, just a sincere thank you from a family for blessing their life.

T&S said...

Anonymous, the Ethiopian community here has been far more supportive, loving, kind, open-minded, and giving than any American I have met. We owe them nothing less then our greatest respect, admiration, and love in return. Give, give, give...

Anonymous said...

Do you really think an Ethiopian living in America would tell you if they felt opposed to adoption? Think about the power structure that has existed for them while growing up in Ethiopia.

I am referring to Ethiopians living in Ethiopia. I would like to know what they think when Americans take away their children especially when they have living parents and families.

When you say "give, give, give" what do you mean?

I am aware that the Ethiopian community tends to be supportive (from the outside), because they see adoption as a means of raising children FOR Ethiopia and giving them opportunity; not as a way for Americans to grow their families. They have a hope that they will be the ones to return to make Ethiopia better.

Please remember, adult immigrants have come by their own choice and tend to return "home" again and again with the same pride and connection that has been with them from their birth. They own that.

Adopted children never will.

Jodi said...

This is an issue that I have thought long and hard about. Is it "selfish" for me to take on the large financial cost of adoption when there are other things that that money could be used for? But then I have to ask: will pap's use the money and donate it if they do not adopt? I don't think it is quite a fair comparison.
The criticism for international adoption has, sure, some good points; but not enough to outweigh the benefits of it for that child. These are NOT children with homes. Ethiopia, in my research, goes to very great lengths/precautions to assure that adoptions are done ethically. They seem to care more for their orphans that we will ever know. Money for the adoption is, in part, donated to care programs. The work that the agencies do must also be paid for...it is their job and they have to be paid.
Adoption, for us, is not a last resort. We can and do have biological children. But there are children who have not come from my body who need homes...we can give a loving home.
Our adopted child will be named Noah (see the Genesis account of his father naming him). We name him this with the hope that he will return to Ethiopia (or otherwise be involved) to help this nation we love. We also, will find a way to support the nation and, hopefully, inspire others with his presence to do the same.
While it may seem "ugly" for Americans to come into Ethiopia and stand out so drastically, only to wisk the children away, do not think that Ethiopia is forgotten by these parents. Many continue to help.

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