Shhhh…Adopting from Ethiopia in secret

The Joint Council on International Children’s Services, a U.S. adoption agency lobbying organization, recently posted a very long policy recommendation on its website titled, “Cultural Sensitivity Regarding Adoptions in Ethiopia.” 
 
The gist of the recommendation is that adoptive parents NOT be seen publicly with their newly-adopted Ethiopian child. Why? Because non-Ethiopian people being seen in public with Ethiopian children apparently violates “cultural sensitivities”: 

“Given that the vast majority of American and European families adopting from Ethiopia are Caucasian or other non-black, the adoptive families and their Ethiopian child are easily distinguished and are often a point of curiosity among Ethiopian citizens. Understandably, due to misconceptions about adoption some Ethiopian citizens even look upon American and European adoptive families with suspicion. Cultural differences in parenting and child behavior are contributing to this suspicion.”  

Frankly, the Joint Council’s policy statement itself is culturally insensitive, painting Ethiopian citizens as ignorant, superstitious and potentially hostile natives who don’t understand adoption. When Ethiopians see white people taking away Ethiopian children by the thousands, they understand quite well the loss that international adoption means for them, their children and their country, and they understand only too well that the “help” they get from white people is taking away their children, the rest of the country’s citizens be damned. 
 
The Joint Council never explains what they mean by cultural insensitivities, but they sure sound scared at the possibility for business drying up: 

“Without exaggeration, this [cultural insensitivity] may lead to the elimination of intercountry adoption as an option for ensuring that every Ethiopian child has a safe, permanent and loving family.”  

If the sheer magnitude of international, transracial adoptions from Ethiopia looks so bad, wouldn’t the most culturally sensitive response be to find ways to keep children in country with their Ethiopian families, instead of counseling adoptive parents to slip Ethiopian children out of the country as quietly as possible so that Ethiopians don’t notice? 
 
When has secrecy in adoption ever been a good strategy?

33 thoughts on “Shhhh…Adopting from Ethiopia in secret

  1. “Significant numbers of Ethiopian citizens have contacted the government and more significantly with complaints.”

    My thought is that perhaps the awareness will force change in country. But that’s not JCICS’s position:

    “Actions and behaviors seen as culturally insensitive significantly contribute to the possible elimination of intercountry adoption in Ethiopia and thereby eliminate the right of every Ethiopian child to a safe, permanent and loving family.”

    “Eliminate the right?” How exactly does this eliminate the right of the child? I think they meant it eliminated the right of foreigners to have Ethiopian babies.

    I have to say that the more I hear about JCICS, the more I dislike them. It started when the then-director issued a statement about an ad that possibly portrayed two lesbians adopting. Basically the thrust was “Don’t let gay people adopt because it will screw it up for the rest of us.”

  2. The JCICS position is not just culturally insensitive, it’s totally absurd. With all the sneaking around a-parents are asked to do in the guidelines, they might just as well tell a-parents to wear blackface while in Ethiopia, or hire a black stand-in.

  3. I don’t know about here, but I do know that in France, Ethiopia is one of the few countries a-parents don’t have to go to when adopting. That is, the child can be ‘delivered’.

  4. well, JCICS is a lobbyist for adoption agencies, what ja expect, but more buffoonery. hey, gabriela63, that’s funny.

    and what about the cultural insensitivity of the adopting parents.

  5. I can see how from an outside perspective this statement seems insensitive, but having intimate knowledge of the background and context of this statement I can say with full confidence that this is extreemly senstitive and written at the request of the government of Ethiopia to agencies.

    This is not about hiding adoptive parents, in fact adoptive parents may travel around town all they wish. The request is that they not travel about town with the newly adopted children as parenting styles and behavoirs are vastly different among the two groups and is creating many cultural misunderstandings. American and Europeans in Ethiopia was a rarity until recently and Ethiopia has very quickly become one of the top countries placing children with families internationally. Approximatly 80 agencies conduct adoption work in Ethiopia – this makes government oversight extrreemly difficult.

    To say that this statement portrays the people as ignorant, potentially hostile, and supersitious is inaccurate especially if you understand full context of the history of adoption in Ethiopia and the current climate. Yes, Ethiopian people feel the loss of what international adoption means for them and understand what is going on. They complain because as more non-Ethiopian families travel to the country, the more their own cultural values and norms are being challenged and changed. It is right to address the fact that non-Ethiopians do not understand fullly the implications of their behaviors while traveling. It is also right to say that any countries population would be suspisious when adopion jumps from as little as 95 or so a year to over 3000 a year in a short amount of time.

    Every child has the right to a permanent, safe, loving home. Adopted or otherwise. Agencies do much more than just adoptions in Ethiopia and birth family preservation is a large part of many agencies work in Ethiopia. Agecies also provide food aide, medical care, and other sorely needed services to the citizen in Ethiopia beyond the adoption work they are doing.

    Ethiopians do not have a foster care system in place, do not have high rates of relative adoption (almost none), and have an extreemly large number of children who have been left orphan due to AIDS, poverty, famine, and diseases which have been erradicated elsewhere in the world. There are countless street children. Pregancy out of wedlock is unacceptable and women who find themselves in this position are shunned, cast out of their villages, and often become the victims of violent crime. How are they to care for their children with no where to go, no help available, and no way to support themselves? Many abandon thier children.

    Asking adoptive parents to keep a low profile is not absurd. This is not about Ethiopians not understanding, this is about Americans and Europeans not understanding that their behavior while travling is having serious repercussions on more than just adoptions.

  6. Oh, gabriela63, or we can always paint the babies white, eh? I don’t know which is better: secretly ship the babies out or to allow insensitive a-parents to parade their western “white” privilege in sending countries. I think there should be some sort of guideline to find a balance. I know for sure that the Chinese do not always enjoy seeing white people taking babies out of China but most are too polite to show their truth feelings.

  7. hey listen in favor of, how bout this: this is about Americans and Europeans understanding that their behavior is having serious repercussions on the children that they adopt. you wrote a pretty good justification post, though.

  8. overseaschinese,
    in 2002, i saw some really upset people in kunming, in fact, somebody called the police on an American couple and said they were stealing a baby.

    all of a sudden, the lady in charge had a lot more money and the group was treated to all the fake tourist stuff.

  9. I think this really needs to be looked at in the context of the political environment within Ethiopia. There are only two “Western” hotels and one large government owned hotel where the vast bulk of western visitors stay. These visitors generally can be divided into a few categories: NGO workers & diplomats, adoptive parents, CIA, and a very small number of tourists. These hotels are islands of western culture within a country that generally causes culture shock to those westerners who have been unexposed to such different cultures. I don’t really think that adoptive parents stray very far “off the reservation” unless escorted and coddled by their agencies representatives to locales believed “safe” by those representatives. NGO’s and the Government routinely use the facilities of these hotels for their “Important Government Meetings” and in recent years, in the public areas of the hotels, adoptive parents with traumatized & tantruming children have become increasingly visible. The problem is not so much that the adoptive parents are visible to the Ethiopian public (there are soldiers posted outside these hotels to ensure they are kept out), but that they are visible to the ruling class. The ruling class has a very cosy relationship with US Intelligence due to their willingness to act as a puppet force in Somalia. I think the ruling class is embarrassed by evidence of their inability to care for their own citizens when they are so eager to trumpet the economic “progress” achieved by the current regieme. Or maybe they just don’t like to spend the equivalent of a middle class Ethiopian’s monthly salary on lunch by the pool only to have to listen to some brat screech incessantly through the meal.

  10. “I think the ruling class is embarrassed by evidence of their inability to care for their own citizens”

    Adad, that’s a very insightful statement, but it doesn’t really seem to resonate with the rest of your post.

  11. In favor of:

    3,000 children from Ethiopia are expected to be adopted this year. At let’s say $10,000 per child, that’s $30 million being pumped into Ethiopia this year alone. Besides money going to guest houses, where is this money going? Where’s a break down? (Food and medical care for women in adoption agency-run maternity homes doesn’t count IMO as “humanitarian aid”).

    The children you describe, including street children, are not the children being adopted. The vast majority are young infants, nearly all with an existing family ties. You and I know that children truly in need families tend not to be the group targeted for international adoption.

    This is much more about self-interest of agencies than the interests of children. If it were in the interests of children, agencies would be more focused on educating parents about their children’s birth culture, not trying to hide their ugly American behaviors.

    If the Joint Council was not a white-run organization, I’d wager its statement, indeed its whole outlook, would be completely different. Sorry, but Joint Council’s whole flying under the radar approach is so Zoe’s Ark. I shudder to see that ‘Africa’ is the new Guatemala/China/Vietnam. There’s no hiding it.

  12. durgamomn,

    yup, i agree that Africa is next, and I shudder to think about all the rip van winkle adoptive parents who are asleep at the wheel to the sort of things their children will likely face. white racism is very hard for white people to see,
    these kids will get so many double messages from most of us, it’s just a horrible thought.

    agencies make money, it’s a business.

    some agencies even brag about how fast they can find the youngest baby of any of the other agencies. it’s a selling point.

  13. durgamom,

    i even had an agency shudder at the thought of me adopting an older child because they were street children.

    agencies are a business, they like to make money.

    if they cared about the children, then why did they drop their clients like hot- potatoes after the adoption was completed in China. China had to write up the rule about follow up home studies. why don’t adoption agencies care about whether or not the child has received their certificate of citizenship? why did Masha get adopted and abused by a pedophile, when a social worker could have checked to see where she was supposed to sleep.

  14. Kathy: Please see: http://ethiomedia.com/accent/8324.html .

    Durgamom: Most of the adoption fees stay with the agency in America. If you are concerned about the agencies humanitarian projects you should email them directly and ask for a breakdown of their projects. From those that I’ve looked into, I found they were a mixed bag.

    I do, however, agree that agencies could do a much better job preparing and educating parents. Interracial families will face the racial issues in this country which many(most) white people choose to ignore or dismissively brush aside with colorblind racism i.e. “we’re all the same on the inside” and many parents seem to have their head in the sand.

  15. you know ADad, i am sure your a nice guy, but if you are trying to tell me that my reading comprehension skills are not on par, well, i got a thing or to tell ya, but i don”t want to sound too crude or anything.

    next, transracial families formed through adoption are NOT the same as interracial families. that’s your privilege talking.

    finally, you are missing the entire point of this discussion, well, at least that’s my opinion anyway.

    ot/ nearly all adoptive parents have their head in the sand one way or another. i know, i am one of them.

  16. Kathy, I have no idea why you would think that I was trying to say your reading comprehension skills are not on par. I did not try to say that, and looking back at my post, I see no reason you would think that I did.

    Next. You clearly assume I am a native english speaker. I am flattered. I have worked hard at it for many years.

    Finally, I found this thread through google while researching issues related to the Ethiopian political situation. I am not a regular reader. I commented on this thread because I thought that this would be a forum to expore the policy statement in terms of race & oppression however it appears that this is only welcome in the limited capacity of criticizing white parents who adopt children of another race. However, as I see it, I think it is much more significant that the infrastructure that is facilitating these adoptions is in the service of a brutal and repressive regime in Ethiopia. You stated that this is about “this is about Americans and Europeans understanding that their behavior is having serious repercussions on the children that they adopt” Starvation is being used in Ethiopia as a tool to pacify political opposition. There are millions of people suffering at the hands of their government. And the adoption industry is clearly supporting that and I think this is a much more significant issue. The suffering of millions outweighs that of 3,000. This policy statement, when you read between the lines, amounts to the Ethiopian government saying “Jump!” and the adoption industry responding “How high?”

    But my perspective is clearly not welcome here and I will not return to follow up on this discussion.

  17. Ok, I lied. I’m back with one more comment. I did look around your site, and saw your list of “we’ve heard it before” and I thought I would say, preemptively, in relation to #10 that my point is not to say that the the suffering in Ethiopia invalidates the issues for internationally adopted children. Instead, I want to show the reprocussions also extend beyond US/European borders. There are systems of racial privilige and oppression in place in Ethiopia and they are working in cahoots with those systems in the west.

  18. Thank you ADad for challenging our perspective. Please don’t go away. These are points of view we need to have – North America finds it extremely difficult to conceive of anything that is different from what it knows, unless it fits into some other little box. Your several messages have added to my understanding of the situation and given an entirely different spin to it. (But this was not immediately obvious from your first post, which seemed less to be an informed comment on a known situation than sarcastic conjecture. This is how it appeared to us in our North American box.)

    Please also understand that the “we’ve heard it before” is aimed specifically at a particular type of commenter who fits the above description and loves to automatically challenge anything that may make him /her have to think critically. Such meta-problems as world hunger etc. are usually thrown at us to indicate how paltry our concerns of racism are.

    What you have brought to our attention is not without significance for us. We will have to rethink our opinion in terms of neo-colonialism as opposed to simple adoption commodification. Thankyou.

    PS: I thought you were a native English speaker too.

  19. Dear ADad,

    Sorry for assuming that you were just one more person to tell me that I am either stupid or that my opinion is not valid. Please accept my apologies.

    Also, I don’t think of Resist Racism as a site for bashing white adoptive parents, I think of this site as a wonderful place to learn, RR is a teaching site for me.

    On the other hand, white adoptive parents do need some kind of wake up to the damage they really do inflict on their children, and it’s not the intent, it’s the impact that matters.

    Glad you came back.

  20. I would encourage education on Ethiopia and it’s history & culture, education on Adoption Agencies that work in Ethiopia, investigation of the works of non-adoptive NGO’s. You will find that when looking at the entire picture in the correct context, more children are staying in Ethiopia and receiving aid and support for their families than the # of children being adopted out.

    Anyone who works in any social services field, knows that social services doesn’t pay much. Even though the cost for international adoption is high to prospective parents, no agency is really “rolling in the dough” so to speak. Reputable agencies don’t “drop clients like hot potatoes” if this has happened to you or someone you know, I am sorry. That is terrible.

    The biggest crime here it not that children are being adopted into families in other counries, but the reasons why these children no longer have their own families. In Ethiopia agencies/families are required to submit post placement reports on children until the child is 18 – so there is follow up post-adoption.

    I would also encourage education about the history of AIDS in Africa, and how global patents of life saving ARV’s by major drug companies led to millions dying because their governments could not afford to purchase them. Governments who found loop holes and cried that this was a major health crisis were sued by these drug companies to prevent them from developing generic drugs. I believe that Nelson Mandella was actually sued for this as well. In 2005 generic AVR’s became available, but millions of children were already double orphans. Children whose parents died from AIDS were cast out of their villages – there was a server lack of education about transmission – heck even in the U.S. AIDS is on the rise again and we don’t even talk about it!

    Anyway, I could again go on and on. I advocate for more education. These issues presented are not unique to Adoption from Ethiopia – they are true of all countires where adoption occurs. I could speculate that historically, international adoption has helped, in some small way, to increase awareness of racial issues. Think about how the first few US citizens in the 50’s were treated when they came home with Korean children? The history of adoption from Korea is Fascinating.

    If you look at the history of Adoption in Bulgaria, for example, you will learn that over time, in part, because of the introduction of intercountry adoption the standards of care for children in orphanages (even those not doing adoptions) has improved greatly and THAT is good for children!!

    Americans and Europeans are unique in that we actually talk about the rights of children to be children. In many countries they work at very young ages. Anything that encourages discussion about improving the situation of children around the world is good. Think of how many are being orphaned in the DRCongo right now – who will raise them?

    This whole topic should be turned to what is best for the child. Even just one child. There are many who need help, but if you can make a difference in the life of even one isn’t that worht it?

  21. Oh, and Kathy, I appreciate your comments, but this one:

    “On the other hand, white adoptive parents do need some kind of wake up to the damage they really do inflict on their children, and it’s not the intent, it’s the impact that matters.” ??????????????????????

    Ouch – I hate to think that you actually meant adoptive parents are damaging their children. If you meant something different (I hope you did) then this is poorly worded.

  22. In favor of, this whole topic is about what is best for the child. And since you quoted me on the “hot potatoes” I will respond to that issue. I began the adoption process around 1995 and my first adoption was completed 1997. I know what was happening then, so please do not say you are sorry it happened to me, there must be thousands of adopted children whose parents never got the certificate of citizenship for.

    Furthermore, Vietnam also had the follow-up homestudy thing for quite some time now. But perhaps the follow up homestudy is not the most reliable protection for adopted children. Perhaps, in order to find the best way to serve the interests of the child, we have to begin a lot more thinking outside the box.

    I am not in favor of letting children linger on and on in an orphanage, and like UNICEF has already stated, they are not against IA as long as it is the last hope. Most white adoptive parents do not realize that they should be the last resort, instead, adoption is looked upon as a right and privilege,
    that ends when the adoption is complete. Please don’t think that I don’t know adoptive parents who have adopted from both IA and domestic and through social services.

    I agree with you that sometimes the money that goes into IS sometimes does benefit the children, however, that can end up being a new type of prison as well. I was in an orphanage last year. What ADad is talking about, the complicity and relationship between governments and adoption agencies is the vector upon which IA sits.

    And i am just curious, full disclosure, are you an adoptive parent or and adoption agency?

  23. No, I didn’t mean anything different, I stand by that comment. Intent, Impact, start thinking about it in those terms.

    When people adopt a child, say for example, China. they promise to teach the culture and language of China. This is important, not as much for the language and culture, but for that child to maintain and grow up in an environment that reflects their ethnicity and heritage and can provide the words needed to understand the particular type of racism they will face.

    When people adopt a child, and say, oh look what a good thing we have done, what kind of emotional damage do you think that sort of thinking might do to a growing, innocent child?

    When people adopt a child, and think, oh, I am saving a little heathen and raising them in the one and only true religion, what does that say to the child.

    When people adopt a child, and never even discuss the topic, including loss, pain, or hate, how can that child ever learn healthy self-esteem and form decent relationships as an adult.

    When people adopt a child and then dismiss or mistreat people of color, what kind of self-hating message do you think that has.

    There’s my short list of damage inflicted, I am sure there are more.

  24. oh, I forget to add to my culture and language paragraph, NEARLY ALL adoptive parents do NOTHING in this regard, promises apparently mean nothing to white adoptive parents.

  25. oh yeah, here’s another good way to inflict damage. refuse to move, live in an entirely white neighborhood that is so white it glows in the dark, send your kid to an all white school, let them get teased and then just dismiss the racial abuse as sticks and stones. I don’t call it teasing anymore, it’s racial abuse, and many white teachers are complicit in this abuse. It should be against the law.

  26. This is in reply to Durgamom:

    Point A) “3,000 children from Ethiopia are expected to be adopted this year. At let’s say $10,000 per child, that’s $30 million being pumped into Ethiopia this year alone. Besides money going to guest houses, where is this money going? Where’s a break down? (Food and medical care for women in adoption agency-run maternity homes doesn’t count IMO as “humanitarian aid”). ”

    Money goes to child care, medical care for the children, staffing & training, document processing, facilities & supplies, food, etc…In Ethiopia the staff of these orphanages run by adoption agencies is entirley Ethiopian save for perhaps 2 – 3 x-pats depending on the agency. So one benefit is job creation and training. Then Additional funds are usually raised for other humanitarian aide projects, such as medical clinics for rural communities where staff is paid for by the NGO.

    Point B) “The children you describe, including street children, are not the children being adopted. The vast majority are young infants, nearly all with an existing family ties. You and I know that children truly in need families tend not to be the group targeted for international adoption.”

    False: Actually, did you know that American agencies were the first to start adopting older children? It is true for adoption in general that many families prefer infants (infant girls to be specific), however, increasing numbers of families are adopting older children. Americans were also some of the first to start adopting children with special health care needs and HIV+ children (in small #’s). Regarding existing family ties: single parent relinquishments are primarily single unwed mothers. There are very heavy social stigma’s attached to this, especially in the more rural areas. When it’s a good agency, adoption is the last option, not the first. heavy emphasis is placed on preserving the birth family when ever possible.

    Point C) “This is much more about self-interest of agencies than the interests of children. If it were in the interests of children, agencies would be more focused on educating parents about their children’s birth culture, not trying to hide their ugly American behaviors.”

    False: Agencies DO focus on training parents about issues in international adoption, both cultural issues AND attachement/emotional issues for adopted children. Prospective parents usually attend at least 10 hours of “training”about vairous issues in adopting. Adoption wouldnt exist if agencies were not looking out for the welfare of the children they serve.

    Point D) “If the Joint Council was not a white-run organization, I’d wager its statement, indeed its whole outlook, would be completely different. Sorry, but Joint Council’s whole flying under the radar approach is so Zoe’s Ark. I shudder to see that ‘Africa’ is the new Guatemala/China/Vietnam. There’s no hiding it.”

    I am not certain what you mean by Africa is the new Guatemala/China/Vietnam. Yes, this is an increasingly popular country to adopt from, but that his not necessarily a bad thing for childre who need families. Currently Guatemala and Vietnam are closed for primarily political reasons, not because of child welfare issues, though there have been issues in the past. China adoptions are strong, but waittimes are increasing for families trying to adopt from there as the Chinese government has been promoting domestic adoption & foster care. Which is great for children. They would like to end international adoption, but realize that currently there are not the systems in place to halt all together. Children need to be raised in families, not in institutions.

  27. I am neither, actually, but do know many many adoptive parents and kids(both domestic and international) and have researched the topics and studied various country policies and agencies. I do however work in social services.

  28. in favor of, since you call yourself in favor of:

    in response that you are neither, isn’t it possible that the research and knowledge that you have so attained has been filtered by your own point of view? isn’t it possible that an opposing point of view is more valid than all the stuff you have studied?

    just wondering.

  29. Why do white people prefer ethiopian babies from the negro race? Do you think we are some kind of exotic pets?
    Are Ethiopians in and Guatemalans out? do we match your designer handbag and your $9 latte?
    why don’t you try adopting the Iraqi orphans whose parents you murdered?

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