`Forgeries and lies' in Australian adoptions of Ethiopian children

Date: 2010-03-03

Rory Callinan
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A SECRET government investigation uncovered major flaws in Ethiopian adoptions to Australia, with some children falsely represented as being abandoned, not having siblings and being healthy despite having serious illnesses.

Others were found to be years older than what was listed on their official documents while some adoptions were processed using a forged Ethiopian Foreign Office seal, according to an interim report into Australia's and Ethiopia's bilateral intercountry adoption program, which was obtained by The Australian.

The program, under which about 450 children have been adopted by Australians over the past 10 years, has been suspended while the federal government negotiates with Ethiopian officials over a push by the African nation for aid to be linked to adoptions. Canberra is concerned the move is "inconsistent with its obligations" under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption.

The program's representative, Ethiopia-based Ato Lakew Gebeyehu, denied any impropriety in his operations or any knowledge of the report.

The investigation was launched after a group of Victorian parents approached the state's Human Services Department to complain in 2005. Investigators reviewed 117 Ethiopian adoption files from 2002 to 2004 and found "issues of concern" in 44 cases.

In 10 cases, wrong information about the history and circumstances of abandoned children was allegedly provided to Ethiopia's Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

Previously unknown siblings were uncovered in nine cases and previously unknown relatives found in five cases after the adoptive families travelled to Ethiopia to do their own research.

The report said such discoveries had left some families questioning "the integrity of the program and the process of children being placed for overseas adoption". It said evidence suggested the relinquishing family or community might have misrepresented the family situation to secure care for a child who could not be looked after for reasons such as extreme poverty.

One of the most significant findings was that, in 25 cases, the recorded age of the child was wrong -- more than a year out in 11 cases -- "which had impacted on some children's socialisation and enrolment at school".

In eight cases, the child's health problems were not properly recorded in the allocation documents. And limited information had been recorded about the child's overall development.

The report recommended the program continue but be further investigated to ensure it complied with the Hague Convention.

Mr Gebeyehu said he was aware a family from Victoria had raised concerns after a child was found to be older than thought but he was unaware of any investigation or negative finding about the program.

Mr Gebeyehu said there had been only two or three cases in 20 years where ages were wrong.

"We have no birth certificates," he said.

He said cases where siblings had been found could occur but some were false claims. Mr Gebeyehu confirmed one of his employees had been using a forged seal but said the documents were replaced and the individual responsible was jailed.

The Attorney-General’s Department had followed up concerns, including those raised in the 2005 report, a spokesman said.
"While there are sometimes inconsistencies discovered in the child’s background, this does not mean that the child is a victim of trafficking," the spokesman said.

He said the government had full confidence in Mr Gebeyehu.


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