Ethiopian children exploited by US adoption agencies
This transcript is a record of the Radio National broadcast.
TONY EASTLEY: In Australia, international adoptions are handled by the Government and are highly regulated, but that's not the case elsewhere in the world.
In the United States international adoptions are a big business, where a large number of private international adoption agencies are paid on average $30,000 a time to find a child for hopeful parents.
The number of Americans adopting Ethiopian children has quadrupled, especially since American celebrities adopted African children.
A Foreign Correspondent team has been investigating American adoption agencies operating in Ethiopia and has uncovered some alarming practices.
Africa correspondent Andrew Geoghegan reports.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Famine, disease and war have orphaned around five million Ethiopian children. It's not surprising then that the business of international adoptions is thriving here and Americans in particular are queuing up to adopt a child.
EXCERPT FROM DVD: This is Yabets. He's five years old and both of his parents died; it says they died of tuberculosis. Can you smile? Oh, nice smile.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: This is the sales pitch from an American agency Christian World Adoption. In a remote village in Ethiopia's south the agency has compiled a DVD catalogue of children for its clients in the United States.
EXCERPT FROM DVD: Father has died. I'm not certain what he died of and this is the mother. Hoping for a family who can provide for them, they're just really desperate for people to take care of their children.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Incredibly though, many of the children being advertised are not orphans at all. American Lisa Boe was told by Christian World Adoption that the little boy she'd adopted was an orphan, but she soon had doubts.
LISA BOE: There was a picture of the people that had found him, and there's a man and a woman in the picture. I point to the woman and he calls her mamma. I would never, never have brought home a child that has a mum. Never.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: At least 70 adoption agencies have set up business in Ethiopia. Almost half are unregistered, but there's scant regulation anyway and fraud and deception are rife. Some agencies actively recruit children in a process known as harvesting.
EXCERPT FROM DVD: If you want your child to be adopted by a family in America, you may stay. If you do not want your child to go to America, you should take your child away.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Parents give up their children in the belief they'll have better lives overseas. But many have little understanding of the process or that that they may never see their children again.
EYOB KOLCHA: It was considered good for the children in the community and the people came.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Eyob Kolcha worked for Christian World Adoption before quitting in December 2007.
EYOB KOLCHA: There was no information before that time, there was no information after that.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Did their parents realise that they were now legally someone else's children?
EYOB KOLCHA: They didn't understand that. I don't think most people, most parents understand even elsewhere in Ethiopia right now.
MUNERA AHMED (translated): I have no words to express my feelings and my anguish about what happened to my children and what I did.
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: After her husband left, Munera Ahmed gave up two sons - one 12 months old and the other five through another adoption agency.
She has had no word about her children since she handed them over; that's despite guarantees that she'd be kept informed. The agency has now closed.
MUNERA AHMED (translated): As a mother not to be able to know my kids' situation hurts me so much, I have no words, no words to express my emotions (crying).
ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: About 30 Ethiopian children are leaving the country every week, bound for a new home, new parents and an uncertain future.
This is Andrew Geoghegan in Addis Ababa for AM.