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Ethiopian adoption went awry


AN Australian couple gave up their adopted Ethiopian children to authorities after being unable to cope with their being older than claimed by African officials.

By Rory Callinan

The two children, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, were found to be about two and four years older than their paperwork indicated and were adopted by another Australian family.

The Rudd government last week reinstated the Ethiopian adoption program, which had been suspended over concerns local officials were seeking to link it to the provision of aid. The new Ethiopian program will include checks on issues such as children's backgrounds.

However, the Attorney-General's Department is yet to decide whether to employ the local representative who has been processing the adoptive children's paperwork and confirming their backgrounds.

A secret investigation of the program in 2005 found dozens of issues with adoptions to Australia from 2002 to 2004, including ages being wrong by years and children having undeclared siblings.

Addis Ababa-based representative Ato Lakew Gebeyehu has previously said Ethiopia is a Third World country and its children have "no birth certificates and you have to take your own guess as well as the relatives, as to how old these children are".

Yesterday, Australian African Children's Aid Support Association president Gaylene Cooper said some parents "just aren't prepared".

"They have this cute picture in their heads of what they are getting but when it's not, they struggle with it and they try to find someone to blame, which is natural, and they have this anger and disappointment," she said.

The parents who gave up on the adoption said they did not have the skills to handle the older children and said authorities should have checked the ages.

The parents said they were told the children would be aged five and seven years, but one appeared to be years older than represented on official documents.

The children also told them they had an older sibling -- a fact not declared in background documentation.

The worried parents returned to Australia with the children but soon struggled with the older child, who was identified through dental checks as being nearly four years older than represented, and who was emotionally much older than expected.

The younger child was also up to two years older than listed.

They relinquished the children, who were successfully placed with another Australian family.

"It was one of the most traumatic things I have ever done," one of the parents said.

"Saying goodbye was the hardest thing."

Mr Gebeyehu last week declined to speak to The Australian and later efforts to contact him failed. However, he has previously responded to issues raised in the 2005 report, saying there had only been "very few cases" where ages were wrong. He admitted cases where extra siblings had been found, but said some sibling claims were false. "We always look for relatives because the child did not drop from the sky. We don't want to deprive the child of the existence of relatives or a mother or father."

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General's Department said the case occurred before it took over over the program in 2007. She said flaws in documentation were being addressed by proposed changes to the program.


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2010 Mar 22