exposing the dark side of adoption
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Fruits of Ethiopia - A study on intercountry adoption in Ethiopia


In 2009, Dutch adoption agency Wereldkinderen contracted Against Child Trafficking to conduct research into the correctness of adoption files of children adopted from Ethiopia. In October 2009, a report was finished, which summarized investigations into 25 randomly selected adoption files of children adopted from Ethiopia between 2004 and 2009. 19 of these 25 cases contained at least some irregularities, which are analyzed in the report.

The executive summary reads as follows:

The findings of the research:

Overall, the current adoption system actively creates an unwarrantedly high number of children available for adoption. Intercountry adoption is in reality privileged to any other in-country suitable manner of care.

Local child protection policies, while existing, are not implemented, while the intercountry adoption market is more and more taking control of the local child protection, as well as the social and health sector.

The adoption process is riddled by fraud and other criminal activities. Parents are stated dead, whereas they are not, dates of birth are falsified, false information is provided to the Courts.

But most important: The demand-driven intercountry adoption process is breaking up families, who could be helped in building up their lives with a fraction of the money involved in intercountry adoption.

Especially the statement "parents are stated dead" is important, because the report lists three such cases.


Orphanage: Sele Enat

Date of adoption: 2004

Situation at the time of relinquishment:
The mother was not able to take care of her son. Mother left the baby with her stepsister. Stepsister told this to the brother of the mother. He asked his other sister to take care of him .His intention was to pay the cost of taking care of the child. But this sister was not able and willing to do that and then the mother took him. Later she put the child beside the gate of her brother.

The child was found by a girl just beside the gate of the house. She brought the baby to the house of her parents and there he stayed up to the adoption.

The neighbours warned the family who took the child, because they were afraid, that she would be charged with child kidnapping. So this family went to the hospital and here they were told about adoption. In the hospital they gave him another name. This family (the woman) authorised the hospital to give the child in adoption.

A few days after the interview the mother contacted Wereldkinderen’s Roots\ Worker. On 8th of September 2009, the mother unexpectedly came to Addis and told Wereldkinderen’s roots worker that she was not involved in the decision of relinquishment. At that time she was working as a house maid and used to visit her son now and then. She went to visit her child when the family gave her leave. One day she bought clothes for him and went to visit him as usual and came to know that he was already adopted. That was four months after he left Ethiopia. She said that she was completely devastated by hearing this sad news and became sick.

Problem Analysis:

The Court order reads
“On the other hand it has given a confirmative statement about the fact that the child whose parents are deceased.”

As a matter of fact the parents are still alive. It was easy to find out.

The first child study report mentions the name of the mother, but written aside is “unknown?”.

The same child study report says that there are no relatives. This is incorrect.

The child study form lists as Guardian the woman who took her into her house.
Question is if she was the formal guardian.

There is no Police certificate documenting the absence of the mother; the abandonment of the child; or a death certificate.

This case points at criminal acts, in so far as wrong information has been given to the court. On complaint from the side of the mother, additional criminal acts, such as kidnapping could come to the surface.

  • This case has to be further investigated.
  • The mother should receive extensive legal and social counselling from an organisation which is independent from Wereldkinderen.
  • This case needs to be reported to all authorities and the Court.
  • The court order has to be corrected if the mother agrees to the adoption, after being counselled by an independent organisation.
  • The mother should receive an update about the well being of her child.
  • The mother has to be protected against possible intimidations from the side of the people/ organisations involved in the adoption process.
Further Remarks:
There was an email in the file from Wereldkinderen to Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian representative, which reads as follows:
How are you? I hope you can help me out with the following. The Birth certificate from XXX was not correct. In January we sent it back to Ethiopia to make a new one. […] So would you be so kind to send this birth certificate by diplomatic mail (underlining supplied) to us?”
It needs to be cleared as to why and how Wereldkinderen could make use of diplomatic mail.

Orphanage: Sele Enat
Date of adoption: 2005

Age of the Children at the time of Adoption:

Child 1: 7 years and 5 months
Child 2: around 2 years

Situation at the time of relinquishment:

The father suffered from tuberculosis; he was in hospital for six months- around 1996 (Ethiopian calendar). In the hospital the parents learned about adoption and the mother´s wish was to give the children away immediately for adoption. In the hospital works Mr. Sheleme, who is a volunteer for OSSA for working with HIV people. Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative visited along with Mr. Sheleme Demoze, who was lying in Hospital. They discussed the issue of adoption and mother has to sign a paper, in which she declared freely to give her children for intercountry adoption. Both the father and the mother where conscious about the consequences of adoption, that the family bondage would be broken. They hoped that the children would have a better life abroad then they had in Ethiopia. The parents hoped to be informed and to maintain contact. Their decision was driven by their social economical and health problems - no income - being dependant on support from OSSA, which the mother did not like at all. Later they became active within an HIV advocacy group and got money from that (advocacy jobs, schools and different places). The adoptive parents visited them during the adoption process. The adoptive father met also the brother of their adopted child and told him to do his best at school, because the adoptive parents will help him to come over to The Netherlands to study.

Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative advised the parents to change the age of the oldest child and so they made her 2 years younger. The children stayed around six months in the Foster Home.

Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative told the parents that when the children would be 18 years old, they would have the possibility to ask back their Ethiopian nationality.

Since the parents found out that the eldest child had been placed into public care, they are worried and have been calling Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative several times. At one time, when the father asked about the children, Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative told him that he had dialled the wrong number.

Further background:

Some years before the birth parents had been separated for one year and 7 months, because the father had fallen in love with another woman.. His wife asked him to come back. He realised the children and his wife missed him a lot. Before reuniting they took an HIV test and found out the father was infected. The mother is healthy.

Problem Analysis

Child 1 has been placed out home and is living in a children’s home.

Letter from adoptive parents to Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative:
“…she only want to return to Ethiopia. She´s sad and angry about the adoption and lives in matter of speaking with one leg in the Netherlands and the other one still in Ethiopia.”…

In one of the letters to her parents she writes:
…I m not feeling well. At these moments I think about you a lot and them miss you both…..
...in the beginning it was hard to adjust and I missed my family a lot. It didn´t work out with my adoption mother and me.
The Court order states:
“on the other hand it has given a conformative statement about the fact that the children´s parents are dead.”
As a matter of fact, they are both alive.

This case was discussed during an internal meeting of Wereldkinderen on 30.09.2009.

It came out that Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian representative had received a stamped letter from OSSA on which eight children were listed as “orphans”.

This letter was the basis to process the adoptions. Thus, according to Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative the Court made the “mistake” of stating that the parents are dead.

Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative felt she could not correct this and proceeded with the adoptions.

Wereldkinderen knew as well that the parents were alive, since they were listed as alive in the child study form (16.05.2005).

This case points at a possible criminal act, since Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian representative knowingly provided the court with false information. She knew at all times that the parents were alive and that the children were no orphans. After the Roots and Aftercare manager of Wereldkinderen questioned the adoption worker about this case in May 200915, the below email was received from Wereldkinderen’s Ethiopian Representative.

Email dated: 28th May 2009
how are you? Enclosed find the answers to your questions About XXX and child 1/child 2 their Abundance clearance is different at
that time it was OSSA who was writing the single paper for Seleent orphanage saying orphaned children who needs help for many children at one paper with out back ground information but I tried to find out the background information from parents and gave you on the child study but I have a signed paper by the mother for relinquishment at Wonji for child 1 and child 2and there was no need to stand at court for the biological families at that time and court used to decide saying children were orphaned.
For AAA it was the time the court started to ask for biological families to stand at court so the mother had to stood at court to give her consent I saw
the decision the court has made mistake to say the child is orphaned…

The above e-mail indicates that there is another adoption case where the mother is wrongly stated to be dead. This case should also be investigated, court papers corrected. Again the mother should be informed about the child’s well-being. This case has similarities with the Austrian “Family for You” case. “Family For You” as a result of such a case got under criminal investigation and went bankrupt as a result.

Role OSSA:
It has to be researched whether it was indeed legal and enough that children referred by OSSA were formally admitted to Sele Enat, just based on a stamped letter issued by OSSA and usually very quickly or immediately taken to WK Foster Home.

According to the Directive issued by MOLSA in 2002 point 7 reads as under:
Regarding inter-country Adoptions of children coming from the Regions:
Having ensured that children sent from the appropriate regional offices are
orphans, they shall be sent to orphanages until adoptive parents are secured.
It is doubted that OSSA could serve as an “appropriate regional office.”
  • The caretakers of Child 1 have to be informed that the parents are alive, but are stated as dead in the court order
  • Wereldkinderen through its Roots Program should visit the child
  • The biological family should be visited again and receive a detailed updated about the situation of the child.
  • A visit of the child to Ethiopia and her birth family should be arranged - if she wishes that.
  • This case has to be reported to all relevant authorities, including the Courts.
  • The biological family needs to be counselled by an independent NGO/person.
  • It needs to be researched whether it may be better for the child if her adoption would be revoked.
  • A possible repatriation of the child to Ethiopia should be explored. If so, the costs of her care and education should be guaranteed

It has to be researched whether it was indeed legal and enough that children referred by OSSA to Wereldkinderen’s Foster Home


Orphanage: Finote Lewogen

Date of Adoption: 2007

Situation at the time of relinquishment:
The mother was a secondary school student when she got pregnant. She had relation with the father for 1 year. Her pregnancy was not accepted by her middle class family. She had to leave home when she was 6 months pregnant. She then with her uncle. The child was born in hospital. After three months the mother came back to Addis with the baby and found work as a housemaid, with the baby.

Her cousin and aunt came with the information about Finote Lewegen (orphanage). They decided to give the child to Finote Lewegem for Adoption. The cousin admitted the child to the adoption.

Sister Adey or Letay works for Finote Lewegen and she met the mother and they went together to the Health Center for HIV test.
The mother told the father only about the adoption, when the child had already departed for the Netherlands. She says at that time, it was a good decision, but now she regrets the decision. She has picture of the child in her mobile phone and misses him.

She hopes the best for him and would like to be informed about him. During the interview she said that once the sister of her employer came from the Netherlands with her two children. That made her very emotional.

Then the mother told about the low income of family. The intention of her aunt was to sent the mother to Kuwait to earn money, but she decided to stay in Addis. The mother was intimidated after the interview by Sister Letay, after she had probably told her aunt and cousin she spoke openly to us.

Case Analysis:
The whole paperwork is based on lies.
  • The Child Study form from the City government, filled out by Kebele 03/04 on 22.12.2006 states that both mother and father are dead. Whereas in fact they are alive.
  • The same form states that the mother was pregnant following rape. Whereas in fact, the child had been born out of a relationship.
  • The Court order reads: Pursuant to the Courts orders the grandmother of the adopted child has appeared in the court and notified her agreement by the adoption and this is due to her lack of capacity or economic problems. Whereas in fact it was the cousin who admitted the children to Finote, who is not the grandmother of the child.
  • During the process the Wereldkinderen social worker from the Netherlands asked questions20 regarding the background of this child, specifically:
    “…In the same paper is noticed “she was pregnant following rape and that she does not know the identity of the father “Who is this “she” ? In case it is the biological mother XX, in all the papers it is written she is dead. Is the child XX a child born out of rape, or biological father is unknown. In your child study the fathers name is XX. Is the biological father the rapist?”
Three days later Wereldkinderen received the following answer from Wereldkinderen’s Foster home social worker:
“…in addition to these, I have asked the Orphanage and XX is his uncle, the brother of his mother. The rapist, the biological father is not known.”
Here the Wereldkinderen social worker through her questions had almost detected the fraud in this case. However, it was not followed through and the information provided by the Wereldkinderen Foster Home representative was trusted at face value.

This case involves serious criminal acts such as submitting false information to Court. Further based on a complaint of the mother, the adoption could be declared void and charges of kidnapping could be pressed against the persons involved in the Adoption.

  • This case has to be further investigated.
  • The mother should receive legal and social counselling from an organisation which is independent from Wereldkinderen.
  • This case needs to be reported to all authorities and the Court.
  • The Court order has to be corrected, in case the mother agrees to the adoption after being counselled by an independent organisation.
  • The mother should receive an update about the well being of her child.
  • The mother has to be protected against possible intimidations from side of the persons/organisations involved in the adoption process.

The report was recently released and can be downloaded from this page.

by Kerry and Niels on Saturday, 12 February 2011