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Strained by AIDS Orphans, Ethiopia Eases Adoptions by Foreigners


Strained by AIDS Orphans, Ethiopia Eases Adoptions by Foreigners

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: December 26, 2004

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Dec. 25 (AP) - Thomas Bekele, who is 4 months old, lies in a crib in the Kidane Meheret Children's Home awaiting an H.I.V. test, the result of which will determine his chances of being adopted and growing up in a Western country.

His mother died a month ago of tuberculosis, a sign that she was infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Thomas is one of 150 children at the home, most of whom lost their parents to AIDS.

The healthy children in the orphanage, run by Franciscan nuns in Addis Ababa, may become part of Ethiopia's newest export: adoptable children.

The country of 70 million people has more than 5 million orphans, whose parents were victims of famine, war or disease, including AIDS. The government has said that the large number of children who have been orphaned is "tearing apart the social fabric" of this East African nation.

Caring for the orphans costs $115 million a month in a country with an annual health budget of only $140 million.

So Ethiopia has gone out of its way to make adoption easier. The number of foreign adoptions reached a record in 2003 with 1,400 children taken abroad, more than double the number in 2002. The number of adoption agencies here in the capital has doubled in the last year, to 30.

The government says it faces a moral quandary.

"We want people to invest in Ethiopia rather than take our children," said Dr. Bulti Gutema, who is in charge of the government's adoption authority. But, he said, "we can't afford to look after every orphan."

He was interviewed in a decrepit government office that exemplifies Ethiopia's standing as the world's third-poorest nation, with almost half the population living on less than a dollar a day.

"Adoption is the last resort because it doesn't help alleviate poverty in Ethiopia," he said.

Ethiopia has enacted strict laws to thwart dubious adoption agents, and to ensure that each orphan being considered for adoption exists, that adoption paperwork is authentic and that no AIDS-infected children are passed off as healthy.

Agencies charge around $20,000 per child, about half the cost in some countries offering babies to adopt.

"People come here because it is very cheap," said Dr. Tsegaye Berhe of Horizon Homes, an agency where children from orphanages wait until they are selected by prospective parents from the United States.

Ethiopian orphans are eligible for adoption until they are 16.

Jana Tuininga represents Adoption Advocates International, one of the largest American agencies working in Ethiopia. She says her agency prepares the children thoroughly in every area, including Western table manners. "We work very hard at preparing them for what life is going to be like," she said.

Most children from Ethiopia go to France, Australia, the United States and Ireland. In 2002, 114 orphans were taken to the United States. That number is expected to increase to more than 500 in 2004.

Russell Giles, 33, an American accountant, and his wife, Vivian, 30, were in Addis Ababa recently to adopt. At the orphanage in a dusty, rundown neighborhood, the couple, Mormons from Salt Lake City, met their future children, Bersable, 6, and her brother, Philimon, 5.

They said they had to spend only three weeks in Ethiopia to complete adoption procedures.

"The government here has been very open and willing," Mr. Giles said.


2004 Dec 26