Published May 16, 2012
The number of Ethiopian children adopted by families in the U.S., Canada and Europe has increased dramatically, prompting some Ethiopians to dub adoption the country's new export industry. That increase, however, has brought stories of corruption, child trafficking and mounting evidence of fraud. In 2011, Kathryn Joyce accompanied an "adoption searcher"—independent researchers who track down birth families of adopted children—to meet a woman who had relinquished one of her seven children for adoption. She's one of many Ethiopian parents who gave up children to adoption agencies, thinking the children would come back after finishing school abroad. Cases of "child harvesting," or unethical recruitment of children, as well as fraudulent paperwork discovered by adoption searchers have tarnished the reputation of Ethiopian adoption agencies. In retaliation, some agencies threaten adoption searchers with legal action, imprisonment and, sometimes, death.