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Project June 30, 2011

Casualties of Ethiopia’s Adoption Boom

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A framed series of photos hanging in the house of one birth family in Southern Ethiopia. The family's three daughters out of seven children have been adopted to the U.S. The top right photo shows the sisters' U.S. family. Image by Kathryn Joyce. Ethiopia, 2011.

Over the past several years, Ethiopia has rapidly become one of the top "sending countries" in international adoption: the number of children sent abroad has recently grown from a few hundred to several thousand annually. In the context of a global decline in international adoptions--which plummeted from a 2004 peak of 23,000 adoptions to the U.S. to under 12,000 in 2010--Ethiopia's exponential growth has earned it the label of the adoption world's "New China."

With that growth have come problems that have plagued past adoption "hot spots" such as Guatemala and Vietnam: widespread irregularities in the paperwork of children adopted out to the U.S. and Europe—sometimes misrepresenting living parents as dead; allegations of fraud or agencies coercing birth families into relinquishing their children; and stories of harassment campaigns against those who question the booming adoption trade, known for bringing significant foreign money into the country through a variety of channels.

This spring, in response to an increasing number of stories of problematic adoption practices in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government announced a dramatic slowdown of the process. But demand for adoptions from Ethiopia continues to grow, and observers on the ground say little is changing. This project will investigate stories of intimidation against adoption whistleblowers as well as the impact of a growing faith-based adoption movement in the U.S. on the demand for children from Ethiopia.

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